Sunday, January 11, 2015

English Vinglish directed by Gauri Shinde

Source: Wikipedia
English Vinglish
India (Hindi), 2012
134 min, drama, comedy, family issues
Directed by Gauri Shinde

English Vinglish (2012) on IMDb

Shashi, a typical Indian housewife who runs a small sweet business out of her kitchen, finds herself belittled and ignored by her husband and daughter for her lack of English ability. When her Indian-American niece announces her plan to get married, Shashi is sent to New York City to help with the preparations. She is frightened because she has never travelled abroad, and she has no confidence in her ability to communicate in an English-speaking world.

After humiliation in a New York cafe, she decides to enroll in an English class with the money she had saved from her business. Part fish-out-of-water comedy, and part critique of women's place in society and the family, this movie demonstrates how people have the ability to learn and be more than they seem to be.

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English Vinglish (2012) (Hindi Movie / Bollywood Film / Indian Cinema DVD)

Prestige Languages

In Linguistics, a "prestige language" is a language that gives advantages to its speakers that are not available to non-speakers, such as being able to take tests that qualify them for jobs or education. In most of the United States, English is the "prestige language," with very few other languages having any value outside of their community.

India, where there are more than 1000 languages, is a more complex situation. The most prestigious language in India is English because it allows you to easily communicate with people from other regions of the country, helps you to easily move or work overseas, and qualifies you for higher education (which is taught and conducted in English). In North and West India, the second most prestigious language is Hindi, the national language and the language of Bollywood and television. In non-Hindi speaking areas, such as West Bengal, the local language is the closest in prestige to Hindi, if you speak it in a "proper," educated way. Lower prestige languages include "less-educated" dialects and other languages that are spoken by minority populations.

English Vinglish illustrates what it is like to be a speaker of a lower-prestige language surrounded by those who speak the higher-prestige one. Shashi struggles to communicate with people from other parts of the country who do not speak very good Hindi. She is considered an embarassment by her husband and their daughter, so much so that her daughter does not want to take her to a parent-teacher meeting. Her lack of English is a barrier to the opportunities that she might otherwise have.

Women's Position

A related issue that this movie powerfully demonstrates is the place of women within society and the household. Shashi is a typical Indian middle-class housewife: she is expected to take care of her children, her husband, and her mother-in-law and to keep the house clean. When she fulfills these expectations and wants to do something that she finds enjoyable (making and selling sweets), her husband is dismissive and tells her that there is no need for her to do that.

Her family does not view her as an individual, but as someone in the role of a mother/wife.

When she goes to New York, she sees her sister, a strong, independent single mother who raised two wonderful daughters in a foreign country. Her sister has become what Shashi wanted to be. Being in New York gives Shashi the freedom to explore without filling the role of a mother, and when her family appears and pushes her back into the same role she feels smothered.

The Psychology of English Vinglish

My favorite part of this movie was the depiction of Shashi's psychological development. With her family, she is forced to do things that she doesn't want to do, her needs and desires are ridiculed or ignored. Instead of helping her, her husband and daughter make fun of her when she does not pronounce an English word correctly. It's no wonder that she feels timid and sad when she's home. 

But when she has the chance to be without these impediments for a while, she understands that she has the power to improve herself and to follow her dreams. She is an entrepreneur, not just a mom making and selling sweets out of her kitchen. In a sense, she discovers who she is. She finds herself.

Sometimes these sorts of explorations are necessary to help us discover what will make us happy and what our needs truly are.

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think in the comments below! 

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