The second-time diva
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Bang, splinterrr, kerchunk!
That was the sound of Sridevi crashing through the celluloid ceiling, becoming one of the very few desi divas who have genuinely been able to transit from motherhood back into the movies with her designer saris uncreased and her bindi intact. Not everyone can survive a filmic resurrection — look at what happened with the "dhak dhak" Madhuri Dixit or the "sexy-sexy-sexy" Karisma Kapoor. The second coming needs more than a few shots of Botox or booty makeovers. It needs a strong script in which older women actors are given breathing space, both in the film and metaphorically. They should be the centres of attention, with interesting characterisation, and if they are objects of desire (not just maternal figures dispensing altruistic love), the film becomes more powerful.
Most importantly, older women actors who play their age (or as close to it as possible) are more credible and acceptable when much of the glamour and gloss surrounding their past avatars is exorcised, leaving behind only the sheer power of their acting. At this stage, with competition from younger, versatile actors like Vidya Balan and Priyanka Chopra increasing, only a cleverly crafted script can help these second-time divas regain some of their past magic.
And English Vinglish manages to achieve quite a bit of this, as it is a charming but well-paced exploration of a "neglected" Indian housewife who discovers her global identity during a brief holiday in Manhattan. There are enough moments in the film when the audience is alone with Sridevi to sympathise with her needs and compulsions. Fortunately, there is also enough fresh humour and exploration of parallel relationships and personae to prevent it from becoming yet another maudlin, mid-marriage crisis film. Even though Sridevi has to pay the price for aging by being shown as a mother and a housewife — unlike male heroes in their forties who still carry on as singleton studs — the fact that a dishevelled French Romeo (very much in the Hugh Grant mould) still finds her attractive injects sensuality into her otherwise rather reserved character.