English Vinglish, written and directed by Gauri Shinde, is the story of Shashi Godbole (Sridevi), a homemaker who grapples continually with the English language. Her struggles can be aptly summarized by Utpal Dutt’s dialogue in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movie, Kisse Se Na Kehna, “Humne angrezo ko haraaya par angrezi bhasha se haar gaye (We defeated the British but got beaten by the English language)." Every day, her inability to speak the language is mocked by her husband (Adil Hussian) and her daughter (Navika Kotia). Her husband is also unappreciative of her small catering business of snacks and ladoos. Their constant condescending behaviour crushes her self-confidence and self-worth.
One day, she receives the news of her niece’s wedding in the US. Her sister requests her to come to New York and help her with the wedding arrangements earlier than the rest of the family. Shashi is petrified! How will she travel to a country without knowing English? On reaching there and after a disturbing incident in a café, she decides to enroll herself in a spoken English crash course. In this class, one of her classmates is Laurent (French actor Mehdi Nebbou), a French chef. Shashi converses with him in Hindi and he in French, with English making a periodic appearance. In spite of the language barrier, they are able to comprehend each other’s emotions.
Laurent falls in love with Shashi. His love for her is as soothing as the warm sun on a cold, winter afternoon. He helps her rediscover herself and boosts her self-esteem. He even tells her that making food is an art. Hence, she is an artist refuting her statement that for a woman, cooking is a duty. Despite living on the other side, he takes the same train as her so that he can spend more time with her. In one of the classroom scenes, their English teacher, Mr. David (Cory Hibbs) asks Laurent about what he likes about the class, and he instantly replies, “Shashi!”
Laurent's dialogue, “Her eyes are like two drops of coffee in a cloud of milk!”, is often considered one of the best descriptions Sridevi's wide-eyed gaze.
His role has a huge impact on the movie. Despite knowing that Shashi will never reciprocate his love, he gently prods her to become a confident person. He is aware that learning English is important to her so when she is unable to attend her classes, she asks Radha (Priya Anand), her younger niece for her (Shashi) phone number. He calls her during the class so that she can attend the ‘audio lectures’. Laurent is a sensitive and understated character who nudges her to overcome her shyness and diffidence. Shashi acknowledges this and gratefully tells him, “Thank you for making me feel good about myself.”
Their heartwarming Hindi-French conversations completely negates the line she despondently says to her husband, “Haan, important batein sirf English mein hoti hai!”