MUMBAI (Reuters) - When one of Bollywood’s most successful leading ladies chooses your film to make a comeback, it turns up the pressure on the film-maker.
But not so for director Gauri Shinde, who is making her debut film with Sridevi, whose last major role was in the 1997 film “Judaai”.
“English Vinglish”, which opens in cinemas next month, features the popular actress as a housewife insecure about her lack of fluency in English.
Shinde, an ad film-maker married to a film director, spoke to Reuters about directing Sridevi, how her mother came up with the idea for “English Vinglish” and why knowing English shouldn’t make one feel superior.
Q: Did you always want to make films?
A: “I wanted to be in films in whatever form towards the end of my college, when I did my mass comm. Advertising happened first and I have been an ad film-maker for quite a few years now. I knew that one day, when I have a great idea, I will make a film. It could have happened before also.”
Q: You have said the idea for “English Vinglish” came from your family. Is this film autobiographical?
A: “No, it is just the thought that came from my mom, specifically. From then on, it is a work of fiction, but yeah some bits of life are there.”
Q: You said you’ve touched on the insecurity that Indians have of not being able to speak in English fluently. What do you think is the root cause of this insecurity?
A: “I think it is to do with British colonisation. It is to do with our history, our past. We have this tendency to look at any white people with great awe. And since they brought in this language, we think it is far more superior than what our languages are. It is quite sad because all languages are equal. Not that English is any less, but a language should not be an indicator of feeling superior. In Europe, they aren’t so fluent (in English) but they speak their language with pride.”
Q: Do you think a movie like yours can change perceptions about this?
A: “I hope it does, but I am not trying to preach or make a statement or send out a message. It is a very personal and individual thing is what I am tapping into. Which is that any security you have, you are just a step away from overcoming it. Language is just a medium I have used to express that. To feel pride in the person or individual you are and that no one can make you feel superior or inferior without your permission. Language shouldn’t divide people or make them feel bigger or smaller. Connecting with people should be key.”
Q: What helps the character connect or come into her own? Is it mastering the language?
A: “That’s another aspect where you feel more intimidated within your own circle and freer with strangers. Anything that you have felt insecure about and once you grasp or conquer what it does to you as an individual on so many levels is what it is about.”
Q: Did you feel the pressure of being at the helm of Sridevi’s comeback movie?
A: “No, I didn’t think of it like that at all. I didn’t even know she has refused other people. I don’t think she had plans of ‘oh now I want to make a comeback’. I was really lucky. So no pressure at all. A lot of credit for that goes to her because she made it look so easy.”
Q: She has such a gamut of fans - people who liked her in “Sadma” or in “Himmatwala”. Did you tap into any of those personalities or is this a completely different version?
A: “I would imagine it is a different version. What she brings to it is her storehouse of talent. I think it is something new, and that’s what even she says.”
Q: Your film is heading to the Toronto film festival. Do you think international audiences will relate to it?
A: “Absolutely, the subject is universal. It is about a woman coming into her own and that is an emotion that can connect with so many people. English, we think it’s a dominating force all over the world, but that isn’t true. In the U.S., the Spanish people and a lot of outsiders and immigrants don’t know how to speak the language. The emotion is connectible, more than the language theme. I wouldn’t call it a festival film. These kinds of festivals have a whole gamut of films, it doesn’t have to be an art film.”
Q: Is it easier for a woman to write a women-oriented film?
A: “I may be able to articulate those emotions well. To be able to understand women and put those emotions down might be easier but to be able to put a whole film together, it would be as easy or as difficult for any one.”