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Gauri Shinde has revealed that producers were pressurising her to put in Sridevi's item number and a male superstar... which would have been a disaster for the fabulous, nuanced movie!
It has been 10 years since the landmark movie English Vinglish hit the screens. It was a runaway hit, while also receiving critical acclaim. What made the movie work was how it centered around the relatable Shashi (played by the uber-talented Sridevi), an ordinary Indian woman.
The film plays out in very realistic sequences, showing how Shashi is constantly undervalued by her husband Satish. It highlighted an underestimated form of domestic abuse that many Indian women like Shashi face in their lives – gaslighting. It shows the journey of Shashi’s growth into a confident woman as she finds her own way to empower herself.
The writing was powerful, and some dialogues are still fresh in our memory. (Like this one – When a man cooks, it’s art, but when a woman cooks, it’s her duty!) Sridevi stole the show with her performance, with an equally realistic Adil Hussain playing her husband to perfection.
Gauri Shinde is the director behind this phenomenal movie and spoke about the challenges she faced while making it, on account of the film’s 10-year anniversary.
She details how producers were reluctant to take up the movie as she wanted to make it – with a middle-aged female lead, sans the regular glamor or Bollywood masala. This happens more than we’d like to imagine it does – great ideas from women are shot down or are distorted to suit commercial cinema so much that the end product is a soulless masala movie without any real story.
Gauri was finally able to bring her vision of Shashi to the big screen as she imagined it, only because she and her filmmaker husband R Balki decided to produce it themselves.
But what happens to those women who do not have the backing of powerful men or the monetary means to translate their ideas on screen without any tampering? Their stories of Indian women remain untold because Bollywood considers such female leads unworthy of shouldering a movie on their own.
Let’s imagine the disastrous way English Vinglish might have turned out if Gauri Shinde had no choice but to include the commercial elements demanded of her, in the movie.
Forget Shashi’s relatable cotton sarees, and hair tied up in a bun. Sridevi would have worn sequinned see-through sarees with spaghetti blouses. Her face would have been caked with make-up for every scene. Her loose hair would have swayed with the wind, even as she sweats (only metaphorically!) making laddoos by the dozen.
We might have seen one or several item songs with Sridevi – because it’s Sridevi! One can only imagine how many double innuendos we would’ve heard involving the “dard” of making “laddoos”.
The powerful message of how Indian women had the potential for entrepreneurship would have been completely lost.
Forget Adil Hussain and his stellar performance that made many of us hate his character in the movie. Her husband’s role would have been played by a superstar, with a customary intro song.
What does he do? Of course, he is working on a top-secret, critical mission for the Indian Army. Let’s not forget the CG-loaded action sequences that his fan base will demand!
No matter what the theme of the movie is, patriotism somehow always finds its way into mainstream Bollywood cinema.
The legendary coffee shop scene would have seen Shashi talk pages of melodramatic dialogues in Hindi to the barista about Bharat, ending with applause from American onlookers. We wouldn’t have had a glimpse of what drives Shashi to finally take charge and enroll herself in the English class.
The South Indian, Pakistani, and French actors who played the respective characters in Sridevi’s English class would have all been replaced by Bollywood mega-stars.
Forget the scenes where we saw them bring out their real selves on screen while conversing in different versions of broken English. We would’ve only seen a love triangle with imaginary duets. There would have been one more fight sequence squeezed in where they all battle for Sridevi’s love.
And we would have seen none of those nuanced scenes with Shashi’s dignified response to the French character’s admiration.
It’s a wedding in the States, but the dance sequence for Navrai Maajhi would have been shot at a real palace with 1000s of dancers. Shashi would have changed into 4 or 5 titillating costumes – Ugh!
Shashi’s remarkable but realistic and flawed speech in English at the climax of the movie would have been replaced by her husband swooping in to “save” her with a prompt, as she struggles to find her voice.
Because that’s what all women are reduced to, on-screen: damsels in distress with a hero to “save” her!
Wait for the “twist” at the end – where it is revealed that her husband reveals that he did all the gaslighting with a mission.
He did it for her “own good” so she would learn English. Because how can a “hero” in mainstream Bollywood be flawed? Cue sad music in the background when someone else glorifies all the unseen “sacrifices” he makes for his family.
We wouldn’t have seen Shashi’s husband realizing how terribly he had behaved with her all along.
In the movie, Shashi’s English speech in the climax is considered her exam. But this would’ve been replaced by Shashi and her husband speeding to the venue of her English exam in a sports car. We wouldn’t have seen Shashi finally experiencing the sense of accomplishment and rightful recognition from her friends, and family.
Shashi and her journey of finding her voice figures nowhere in the movie if it gets filled with distractions. She is reduced to a sidekick, with nothing to do other than serve the hero’s interests when the story calls for it. English Vinglish would’ve been just another forgettable Bollywood movie.
But Gauri Shinde to stick to her story, and English Vinglish truly set the ball rolling for female-centric movies in Bollywood. The cultural impact it created among the audience was tremendous – many Indian mothers will attest to how relatable Shashi was, and how it made them feel seen.
Aren’t we thankful that this masterpiece was untouched by commercial elements?
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An engineer turned SAHM of two who wants to be known beyond that. Passionate about words, parenting, making eco-friendly choices, feminism and lifelong learning. read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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