Film Review: Little English – Manchester Indian Film Festival

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Writer:  Pravesh Kumar from a story by Apurva Asrani and Pravesh Kumar

Director: Pravesh Kumar

The mounting problems, so to speak, faced by newlyweds are an enduring comedy feature and have proved highly adaptable to remain relevant. Bill Naughton’s 1965 stage play All in Good Time was updated in 2011 to feature a Hindu couple. Little English continues the tradition while drawing in cultural considerations – the conflicted marriage in question has been arranged in accordance with Punjabi customs.

Simmy, (Rameet Rauli) moves to the UK as part of an arranged marriage to Raj (Simon Rivers) who promptly does a runner after the ceremony. Simmy is a stranger in a strange land, speaking little English and isolated in her new home by her community conscious mother-in-law, Gurbaksh (Seema Bowri), desperate to uphold family Izzat (honour). To make matters worse Simmy shares the accommodation with Raj’s younger brother Harry (Viraj Juneja) the black sheep of the family who is under house arrest and refuses to speak Punjabi. A tentative romance between Simmy and Harry is jeopardised when Raj returns to fulfil his marital obligations.

On-stage Little English might work as an intense family drama. The revelation of the nature of the ‘curse’ under which the family lives is a genuine surprise and emotionally powerful. Yet writer/ director Pravesh Kumar takes advantage of the opportunities offered by the film medium to open up the story and draw in elements from the wider community. Kumar is also determined to move away from the song-and-dance routines and emotion-charged melodrama which characterise the Mumbai film industry: “This isn’t a Bollywood movie’’ protests Harry at one point. The humour is largely underplayed with Rameet Rauli’s deadpan reactions and Madhav Sharma’s rueful but twinkling observations. As Simmy rarely leaves the house comedic opportunities arising from her adjusting to the different culture in the UK cannot be explored.

However, the ambitious approach taken by Kumar results in a disjointed and crowded movie. The central love story is played realistically if with romantic overtones. Rameet Rauli and Viraj Juneja give naturalistic performances and have strong chemistry. Other characters are drawn broadly and behave in an eccentric manner which would be suitable for a lovably cute movie like My Big Greek Wedding. There is an odd sub plot involving Nikki Patel’s Sweetie trying to ensnare Harry in a wannabe crime caper that feels like it belongs in another movie altogether.

The number of characters and relatively short running time results in some broad characterisations. Women are strident and domineering and men lovably useless. This leads to some unconvincingly plot developments; it is hard to believe someone as controlling as Gurbaksh could be unaware her son was in a relationship that had been going on long enough to father a child.

Other aspects of the plot are underdeveloped. Details are not given of the crime committed by Harry and it is unlikely the criminal charges against him could be dropped just because he turns over a new leaf. Kumar neither endorses nor condemns the concept of arranged marriage and this lack of explanation means the benefit which Simmy gains from the arrangement is left vague. It is mentioned she is unaccustomed to chores having come from a family which employed servants, so money does not seem to be an issue. Although Gurbaksh is supposed to be terrified her standing in the community will decline if the failure of the arranged marriage becomes common knowledge, she is never shown to take part in any communal events.

The sheer ambition driving Little English results in an uneven movie; a more focused approach concentrating on the central plot and characters might have resulted in a stronger film.

Little English is part of Manchester Indian Film Festival presented by the London Indian Film Festival in association with HOME’s ‘Not Just Bollywood’ season. Box Office 0161 200 1500.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Ambitious but uneven

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