(Delite and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

Debutante director Gauri Shinde brings to surface what millions of housewives who are not conversant with English suffer silently every day. It can mean diminishing respect from kids, or the husband’s love getting reduced to a demand for good food and sex. And if a home-maker pursues a hobby to earn, it can be construed as “time pass”…a mere layer of butter for the bread that the man of the house provides.

We have grown up observing all this around us. How an innocuous parents-teachers meeting becomes a test for the mother if the school is convent and the mother speaks in vernacular.

Many surrender to a life bereft of self-worth but Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) decides to change it for the better. On a visit to America she enrols herself for an English language course and the tongue starts rolling just like the laddoos she specialises in.

On the face of it, it seems there is not enough material to create a substantial screenplay but Shinde manages to generate a buoyant mood from the word go and manages to imbue the screenplay with moments of rare honesty. Be it the kids (Shivansh Kotia outstanding as the precocious son) or the mother-in-law (the ever reliable Sulbha Deshpande), the director has managed to construct a family you and I can relate to. It is neither too sweet nor too caustic.

When Shashi’s officious husband Satish (Adil Hussain) says his wife is born to make laddoos , he is not necessarily commenting on Shashi’s worth; he is betraying his understanding of women around him. His mother served him delicious food and now his wife is doing so. Period.

From pushing her to attend PTA meetings to encouraging her to go to America to attend the wedding of her sister’s daughter, Satish is a balanced character with his share of weaknesses. He hangs up on her, doesn’t engage with her in conversations but in crises he also offers help in making laddoos . He doesn’t even compare her with the colleagues he harmlessly hugs in office. The point is Shinde doesn’t make us question whether English could be the reason for a man to lose interest in his wife. After all, most of us live two lives in a day.

Having earned her spurs in advertising, Shinde presents New York like an advertisement and shifts between bumper sticker statements and subtle proclamations with ease, never allowing the feminist tone to take over the story-telling. If Amitabh Bachchan’s cameo is unusually loud and jingoistic, Shinde nicely recognises a husband’s role in middle class families as Sashi’s US-based sister gives credit for her success to her deceased spouse. Shinde knows how much she can dramatise a one-line plot about a lady who doesn’t know English in 2012. After all, how many of today’s girls know the art of making laddoos ! It is just a case of misplaced priorities.

Some of the situations she creates are rather simplistic like the obstacle Shashi faces at the coffee shop and the school that Shashi attends is full of lazy stereotypes – a Spanish nanny, a French chef, a Pakistani cab driver, a Chinese hair stylists, a homosexual teacher… but she manages to get away with it because the performances are top-notch and the dialogues has just the right punch.

Add to it Amit Trivedi’s music score and you have a film that charms and warms in equal measure. The relationship between Shashi and the French chef Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou), who gently helps her gather her self-esteem, is particularly tricky and could have easily gone sappy but it turns out to be the film’s highlight. The best part is when language ceases to matter. Shashi complains in Hindi and Laurent gets the import. Laurent laments in French and Shashi responds.

Sridevi hasn’t lost much in terms of acting and appearance in the past 15 years. And Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s saris add to the grace. At the peak of her game she was adept at making you cry and laugh at will. Here again she offers us the good old mixture and it works. Yes, her voice is still squeaky, her expressions still a bit exaggerated, and they become all the more noticeable in the presence of an actor like Adil Hussain who makes a cardboard sketch lifelike but it works because the traits go with what we expect Shashi to be.

Watch it with a woman you love, and respect.


(PVR Director’s Rare, Vasant Kunj, Delhi, and other theatres)

A hard-hitting comment on the dark side of urbanisation in the National Capital Region, it has debutant Siddharth Srinivasan capturing the moral ambivalence that underlines this mindless pursuit for development through some stark metaphors. The independent film shows us a side of Delhi that is neither picturesque nor funny. Where money moulds morality and brute force modulates relationships.

Siddharth tells his story through a watchman, a ubiquitous creature in the heartless concrete jungle but somebody who hardly finds space on screen. Bhanu (Divyendu Bhattacharya) selflessly guards a barren silica mine which his lecherous master Ahlawat (Avtar Sahani) wants to sell to an old man with the promise that it could be used for building residential towers. He knows it won’t be easy because the mine was shut down on court orders for polluting the region. So he offers a bonus to the old man: the hand of his daughter.

Understanding her plight, she runs away with her boyfriend but Ahalwat gets the boy butchered through his cronies which includes a police constable. It sends his daughter into a spiral that he could not control. The same Ahlawat doesn’t allow scruples come into his way when he physically exploits Saroj (Saba Joshi conveying the pain and helplessness), the wife of Bhanu.

Saroj gives in to his demands because he gives her money to make the ends meet but at the same time she wants Bhanu to stand up to his master. Bhanu keeps serving because of the familial loyalty but by the end we discover that he knew what his master was up to. If Bhanu’s helplessness is disturbing, Ahlawat’s depravity is disquieting. The bareness of the mines and coldness of the skyscrapers sucks you into this unhinged world. Though it was necessary to establish the brutality of the situation, Siddharth’s camera at times enters the voyeur’s domain as if Ahlawat is calling the shots!

The performances do get theatrical and the sudden change of behaviour of the constable doesn’t pass muster. Siddharth parries many questions in the name of experiment but overall Pairon Talle leaves you uneasy and denuded of most pretences. And that’s an achievement in these artificial times.


(Satyam, Delhi, and other theatres)

Some years ago director Sanjay Khanduri announced his arrival with Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local . Now it seems he is in a mood to announce his departure with Gyarah Chalis Ki Last Metro . Yes, this could well have been the name of this lewd assault on the senses. Khanduri has failed to evolve from his promising debut and has twisted the Mumbai plot to set KLPD as a one-night comic thriller in Delhi.

Vivek Oberoi plays a Delhi boy who can’t control his hormones. His desperation lends him into one bout of trouble after another and us into one pedestrian joke after another on a night that becomes a nightmare for people on either side of the celluloid.

Freedom of expression is fine, but when a girl is named Aarti Utaroo it is more desperation than turn of phrase. Inundated with stereotypes, we have gay designers, corrupt politicians and bungling goons jostling for space in a screenplay which goes back and forth in time to give some legitimacy to the baloney at play. The only novelty is the use of Delhi-Haryanvi dialect to create an authentic ambience. Ashutosh Rana leads a “slapstick” gang of jats and gurjars. It spikes up the mood and when Santokh Singh’s “ Chal Baith Pajero Main ” unravels it seems we are in for some authentic humour from the countryside. It creates the mood for a ribald comedy but when Khanduri goes for the overkill, nuance is reduced to nonsense and it becomes a lacklustre experience. Vivek tries hard to fit in but Mallika Sherawat is completely off-key.

Avoid this ride to nowhere!


(Spice, Noida, and other theatres)

A measured comment on the state of capitalism in the United States of America, this articulate crime thriller makes its point forcefully and stylishly. An adaptation of George Higgins’ novel “Cogan’s Trade”, director Andrew Dominik sets it in times when Barack Obama was emerging as the new hope, when Katrina had swept away many hopes and when even the criminal world was finding it hard to tide over the recession.

An old hand (Vincent Curatola) hires two upstarts (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) to rob a mob protected card game run by Markie (Ray Liotta). They surprisingly succeed and the needle of suspicion falls on Markie because he had once robbed his own game. When the criminal economy collapses, the anonymous bosses entrusts Driver (Richard Jenkins) to call the debonair Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a no-nonsense enforcer, to tame the errant troika and put the business back to usual.

Along the way he takes the help of Mickey (James Gandolfini), an old master of the game, but discovers that he has lost his potency to booze and bosoms. While Pitt gives a class in cool quotient, Gandolfini shows how to arrest attention with a monologue. Jenkins is an old hand at making sinister plans but it is Mendelsohn who catches the eye as the unhinged crook at the bottom of the social ladder.

Dominik has blended style and substance well. Filled with verbal profanity and visual flair, the film is a direct and incisive comment on the American way summed up by Cogan as “America is a business”.


English Vinglish: The Queen’s SpeechOctober 6, 2012