English Vinglish director Gauri Shinde, just like her filmmaker husband R Balki, comes to Bollywood from the ad world. Articulate and precise, the debutante director discusses directing 1980s superstar Sridevi’s “welcome back” film and the importance of communication over fluency in language.
English Vinglish marks Sridevi’s comeback after 15 years. Is that a big burden for a debut director to shoulder?
I have not felt it but now that I see the number of fans she has and the excitement around the film, there’s happiness. I feel, “Oh my God, there are so many people who are such passionate fans of hers, and are dying to see her.” And I don’t like the word ‘comeback’; it doesn’t have a very positive connotation.
What term, then, would you use to mark Sridevi’s return to films?
(After some thought) Sridevi, welcome back!
Sridevi says she can’t imagine working with male directors after working with you.
(Laughs) That’s very sweet and generous of her. We got along so fabulously and are so happy with the product — this comes from there. It is a great compliment.
Was Sridevi ever self-conscious?
Not at all. The moment she gave the first shot, in the first scene, I said, ‘Why were you away? This is where you are supposed to be, in front of the camera.’ She is born to be there, she is a natural.
You come across as a big Sridevi fan.
I haven’t been a fan of ’80s cinema; it was an era I blindly lived through. But I like her in Lamhe, Chandni, Sadma and Mr India. I became Sridevi’s fan after I shot with her. She has taken the scenes and the script to a different level. I am fan a of her as a human being too.
Are you ready for the inevitable comparison with your husband Balki’s films?
Yes, I am also ready for people to say that Balki has directed English Vinglish.
Does working together help or hinder a marriage?
The pros were bigger than the cons. I was really lucky to have him as the producer. I had a free hand.
Did the director in him come to the forefront?
Not at all. I don’t allow him. And he doesn’t do it. We are both strong headed, I don’t interfere in his direction and he doesn’t interfere in mine. Maybe he wanted to — you’ll have to ask him.
Why make this film in three different languages?
If I could, I would have made the film in every language in India and abroad. Because the thought is universal. Language is an issue with everybody. Even internationally, the French and Spanish struggle with English. Sridevi is so good at both Tamil and Telugu; if she could speak Gujarati and Kannada, I would have made the film in these languages also. She is so good — she can give the same lovely expression three times.
Your mother’s struggle with English inspired you to write this film. What else is biographical?
The basic thought is from there, the rest of it is work of fiction. But it is not based on her life. There are a few real experiences that I have taken in the film, which have been enhanced for cinema.
Does the film say fluency in English is a necessity for success? And is that a correct message to pass on?
What I am trying to capture in my film is that language can’t be a barrier; it should not divide people. Communication is the key. Globally, we are connecting to so many people; and in my film too there are people from across the country as well as the globe. Yet, we have managed to connect. Nobody’s language is perfect, other than in their own mother tongue. English is still a second language for this country. But we are very proud of our Indian English, as long as we get through. I think communication is more important than fluency in the language.