Thoughts on English Vinglish

Posted on October 12, 2012


English Vinglish is one of the most loving and the most genuine tributes to the mothers to our generation. Mothers who wear saris, mothers who cook great food, mothers who run the household without any help, mothers who are fascinated by the lives that their husbands and children lead outside the house, mothers whose pride and joy are their families. The film is about those mothers and their strength, their happiness, their pride, their shame, and their incredible capacity to forgive.

I see so much of my own mother in Shashi—her delight in the smallest of things; her curiosity about the modern world; the polite, almost deferential way she speaks to strangers; her prim tidiness; the dignity with which she conducts herself in public; her playfulness when alone with her kids; and the hurt in her eyes when we leave her out of conversations. I think she and mothers like her are in many ways the last of their kind. I don’t think my generation is capable of such selflessness and such love—we are too individualist, too self-obsessed, too impatient.

It is also a far more honest film than many. It shows how cruel families can be but it also concludes with a sobering acknowledgement that families are important and one mustn’t give up on them, no matter what their imperfections—and it cuts both ways. Shinde doesn’t give us a big pay-off scene at the end. Rather than using her newly acquired English to tell off her family, Shashi uses it to remind her family about respecting and supporting each other. There is a wonderful reversal at work here. English, for most Indians, is the language of modernity but Shashi uses it to argue for the importance of the traditional family unit. When she speaks English, it doesn’t become a language that alienates as it does when her husband and her daughter speak it; instead, when she speaks English, it becomes a language that binds the family.

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