I had a broad smile plastered on my face throughout this film, even as the credits rolled and as I left the theatre and walked outside. It was not the chops delivered by a star belonging to the "worshipped" Rs 100-crore club or the six-pack display by a debutant that had me smiling; it was the measured, yet delightful performance in 'English Vinglish' by 49-year-old Sridevi, who had been on hiatus for 15 years.
Now, I can't remember the last time a commercial Hindi film had a housewife and mother of two children as its protagonist, was not accompanied by a male lead, and yet became a hit. In other words, I have never seen a character clad in simple saris with neatly plaited hair that resembles my mother - and countless other Indian mothers - take centre stage in a Hindi film before 'English Vinglish'. That is why the success being enjoyed by debutant director, story and screenplay writer Gauri Shinde's offering amid male-centric movies is so heartening.
The film has a simple plot: a woman, who runs her household expertly and makes yummy 'laddoos', is undermined by the very people she has devoted her life to - because she cannot speak English. How she overcomes this linguistic handicap and regains her self-esteem is what this film is about. It is no doubt a feel-good film. What sets it apart is that it is realistic and the solution it offers is plausible and not merely feel-good. Shinde has said in interviews that the protagonist's struggle with English is based on her mother's experiences.
Sridevi's role in this film has only one parallel in recent times: that of Ranbir Kapoor's mom played by Supriya Pathak in 'Wake Up Sid' (2009). There too, the character was not English-educated and hence ignored and ridiculed by her son, who, by the way, later failed in college.
However, that film was about Ranbir's coming of age; in that journey the transformation of his relationship with his mother formed a substantial part, not the crux of the story.
A majority of our population is young and it is natural that films will be made keeping them in mind. That does not mean that the central characters have to be teenyboppers or in the age group between 20 and 35; older characters can take that place if they are relatable for the young audience. In any case, whether a plot is engaging or not has little to do with characters' ages and more with the quality of the screenplay, acting and direction.
Overseas, older characters are taking their place in the sun. Palm d'Or winner at Cannes, the French language 'Amour' (Love) by Michael Haneke, is about an aged couple. It is tipped to get the Oscar in the foreign language film category from Austria too.
'English Vinglish' should open the doors for older actors, especially women, to make their mark on screen again and not play second fiddle to actors, whose only USPs are their chiselled bodies, youthful looks and glowing skin. Older actors should be allowed to play their age on screen, not dressed up horribly like Karisma Kapoor's character in the disastrous 'Dangerous Ishhq'.
When we, the young, get old what will we watch on screen? Clones of films like 'Student of the Year'? Won't we want to see a slice of our life beyond our youth too? Let's welcome the 50 shades of grey.