2012 has seen some spectacular movies in the past eight months and is gearing up for a flood of new releases in the coming four. Kahaani celebrated the female hero once more while Agneepath screamed loud and clear that remake is not always a bad word. Now Barfi looks like RK's ode to Chaplin and Benigni while Heroine promises to slice open the festering underbelly of the Mumbai filmdom. Not to mention the epic clash of the Khan triumvirate in November and December. So why do I choose to spill ink over English Vinglish? Because English Vinglish matters!!!
First and foremost, EV brings back an artiste who's hailed by millions as the greatest and most versatile actress of Indian Cinema. I say Indian because Sridevi remains the only star till date who was the undisputed Numero Uno in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu film industries at once for more than a decade. The only actress who is still worshipped in the three industries for a roll-call of classics she immortalised with pitch-perfect performances. She could do a tearful Moondaram Pirai and a riotous Kshanam Kshanam with equal ease. Hailed as the First Female Superstar of Bollywood, she also remains the longest running No.1 in Hindi Cinema and one of the highest paid actresses ever. Sridevi saw national fame and international glory that her successors could only dream about and such was her star power that despite flops in the nineties, she still remained the official No.1. When she took a break in 97, the media was quick to brand her the Last Empress and now when she is back, the producer of her film R. Balki welcomes her as the 'Biggest Female Superstar' and the 'Only true pan Indian superstar.' Guess with some names, the hysteria never ceases.
EV also matters because it promises to be another game-changer just like Sridevi was in the 80s. After Rekha, the Hindi film heroine was again in danger of becoming the hero's sidekick. New actresses of this era lacked the talent and charisma to carry films on their fragile shoulders. And then came La Devi!!! She not only elevated the Indian heroine but took it to such dizzying heights that overnight she was nicknamed the Female Bachchan. At one point in late 80s, she even became more powerful than Bachchan himself. Such was her clout that she could refuse films with him unless she had equal footing or a double-role as in Khuda Gawah. Sridevi was called the 'hero' of her films and Boney Kapoors and Yash Chopras lined her doorstep with scripts where she was the pivot and the heroes mere accessories. Nagina, Chandni, Chaalbaz, Lamhe, Gumrah, Laadla, Judaai...it became famous in Bollywood that when Sridevi was in the film, no one asked who the hero was!!! No wonder Mr.India was jokingly called Miss India and even Steven Spielberg could not resist her charm and sent her feelers for Jurassic Park. Now after 15 years her latest director Gauri Shinde also says 'Sridevi is the hero in my film'. Karisma and Tabu in the past and now Kareena and of course Vidya have brought back heroine-centric roles but with the original Queen Bee at its helm, EV looks all set to consolidate female oriented movies.
Gauri is another gigantic reason why EV really matters. Film direction in India has inexplicably remained a Men Only territory. Probably the stigma stapled to the film industry kept women away from behind the camera in the past until choreography and costumes opened the first few doors. Looking back the only name that comes to mind is the genius of Sai Paranjpye who gave us classics like Chashme Baddoor, Katha and Sparsh. But these films are largely considered children of the so-called Parallel Cinema of the 80s and rightly so to some extent. Even names like Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair have chosen to create their own brand of films. Cast a glance at hardcore mainstream Indian cinema and you find only men until a gutsy Farah Khan wielded the megaphone in 2004 with Main Hoon Na and now Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti. Gauri is a highly exciting addition to this club and she is surely going to inspire many more ladies to take the plunge and break the clutter.
EV also matters because it's unconventional like Balki's films. Gauri confessed at a TV show that she was never a fan of 80s cinema and that's evident from the promos of EV. This is not your masala potboiler or lovesick romantic saga or a family feud melodrama. One word that has been overused for the promos is 'refreshing' and one cannot agree more. What Gauri is giving us is a film that avoids cliches, tackles international issues and asks real questions. Even the music is not a typical shor-sharaba affair but a zingy melody that flows just right with the film's soul. And Sridevi is not the Superstar who owns the film but Sashi who respects the film. The feat that EV got a 10 MINUTE STANDING OVATION at Toronto Film Festival 2012 is simply because it's today's film with today's outlook. Most importantly the genius of EV is that while it's proud of being different, it's not snobbish. It does not tell you that it's a film solely for connoisseurs at festivals. It's a film that seems to tackle its central problem with such adorable gaiety and endearing fun that you are at once drawn towards its energy. While Gauri with her NY film-making sensibilities has created an uber-chic international product, she has given it just the right dose of Bollywood to keep it mainstream. It might alienate her from hinterland viewers who thrive on Dabanggs and Rowdy Rathores but she has gained an international audience who are viewing Hindi cinema with new found respect.
The role taken up by Sridevi in EV also tells you why the film matters. It's a known fact that after reaching the top, stars grow paranoid about their image and bigger the star, larger the consuming need to be god. Recent examples are of course the Khans who are invincible in almost every film. Today when I see a SRK or a Salman, I don't see the actor anymore. I only see the star. The superstar. Even when SRK does a My Name is Khan, I see SRK not Rizwan. Sridevi being the Superstar herself could have easily chosen a comeback vehicle where she zooms into the screen as the perfect glamour goddess and blinds everyone with a larger than life character. Instead her first look is a timid, awkward and gawky lady struggling to read English while the audience smirks. She could have had a banner that announces 'SRIDEVI IS BACK' with a flourish but she keeps her back to her viewers in self-effacing way as if she's embarrassed to be here again. When I first heard that EV was to be shot in New York, I had prepared myself to see her wrapped in Prada and Chanel. Instead I see a housewife in sarees with a ponytail. EV matters because Sridevi has the courage and humility to poke fun at herself. Because she quietly reminds others that you may be a Superstar but you are an actor first who must respect his craft. An actor who does not only play ultra-perfect characters that alienate audiences but an actor who can play characters that are far from perfect and can still inspire. EV will hopefully give more megastars courage to take up simpler roles where a viewer says, 'That's so like me.'
Finally EV matters because it addresses a universal problem faced by Indians and many others across the world. The embarrassment of not being fluent in English. As the film's synopsis says that money, fame and English are celebrated in today's society and nothing can be more true. Non-English speakers are constantly looked down upon as 'Hindi Medium' and life for them is series of battles at every stage. EV matters the most because it tells you that a language is simply that. A language. Nothing more and nothing less. The posters of EV show Sridevi with her arms outstretched as letters and words float around her in pieces. She stands liberated having ripped her cage to pieces. EV teaches you to get up and mend your complexes. On the way you might discover that it was never a weakness to begin with. And that's why EV is different from the show Mind Your Language. That show was about the need to master English but EV looks more like a film that perhaps teaches you to transcend language. Stop fighting over it. Teaches you to realize that you don't need language to communicate. Only emotions.
That's why English Vinglish matters. That's why the trailer has crossed 1 million views on YouTube. That's why it's songs are rocking the charts. But for my mom, EV matters because of that one look Sridevi gives when her husband says, 'My wife was born to make laddoos.' Touche!!!