(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 7 October 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/mobsters-on-a-different-plane-2)
Cast: Sridevi, Mehdi Nebbou, Adil Hussain, Priya Anand and others
Director: Gauri Shinde
Rating: 4 stars
Alienation by language isn’t easily understood by those who haven’t experienced it. It’s lonely, frustrating, and humiliating. You only pick up a language by speaking it, but in a world where intelligence is synonymous with articulateness, poor grammar makes the speaker an idiot. Authority is undermined by a pronunciation error. Poise is shaken by a stammer. Righteous anger melts into mortification when an interlocutor giggles. Maybe my fellow-Madrasi, Sridevi, captures it so well because she, in all likelihood, went through it with Hindi when she entered Bollywood in the 1980s.
While the occasional hammed line reminds us that she was a star and not an actor, Sridevi for the most part portrays Shashi Godbole quite beautifully. The almost apologetic fluster of not knowing a language, the obsequious plea for the slower repetition of a sentence by a native speaker, the ignominy of an impatient retort, that point when one can’t even muster a false smile because one is sick of the constant jibes, the overwhelming gratitude one feels for small acts of kindness – she brings it all out, making us feel her isolation.
The film isn’t particularly nuanced, but it does have its subtle moments – the little things that startle us on our first journeys abroad, the inherited colonised mentality that usually renders us helpless against covert racism, the camaraderie we strike with those who share our handicaps, and the cute little games that draw us closer to someone with whom we’ve discovered delightful, but forbidden, chemistry.
The acting elevates the film. Mehdi Nebbou is quite wonderful in the movie, transitioning from his stereotyped roles in Hollywood to play a French chef who’s falling in love with a married woman. His protectiveness in the face of her vulnerability, his subtle responses to her words even when his face is off-focus (yes, he’s good-looking enough to make me squint when he’s off-focus), and his casual style of delivery make his character thoroughly credible.
Adil Hussain, playing Shashi’s husband Satish, and Shivansh Kotia, playing her son, excel in their limited screen time. However, I can’t figure out why the filmmakers chose to make Priya Anand poorly attempt an American accent rather than pick an NRI for the role. Among the film’s other negatives are its equation of the insular with the vernacular, its clichéd characters and some truly terrible songs with vacuous lyrics. But the actors make you forgive most of this.
The Verdict: A simple story, not badly told, and carried entirely by an inspired cast.