Four days ago, I watched English Vinglish. In this new world of first weekend-hit films, this movie is still running to full houses in its third week, simply because of Ms. Sridevi, who is just so damn good. I liked the film and even had a lump in my throat when Ms. Sridevi gave her “English” toast.

And then I started thinking about the film…not always a good idea, because once the emotional effect wears off, the flaws start becoming apparent. For example, there is unnecessary jingoism…during the visa interview and during the immigration process after landing. There are also stereotypes galore and racism…the rude black lady in the coffee place.

But what really has stayed on, is the word, “judgmental”, which comes up when Shashi, the character played by Ms. Sridevi, hears it uttered during a film she is watching and then asks her niece to explain its meaning. The film’s main subtext is that it is wrong to be judgmental about people based on their inability or ability to speak English.

We are constantly judgmental. It is part of our DNA. Most of this happens intuitively and subconsciously allowing us to categorize and compartmentalize people and situations, without wasting too much time, enabling us to engage in social intercourse without being constantly stressed out about those we are meeting or interacting with.

First impressions do matter. A taxi-driver is unlikely to have heard of Harry Potter. A Nepean Sea Road resident is unlikely to know where Dahisar is. A woman in a short skirt is a slut. We slice, dice, compartmentalize and judge all the time. We are wrong sometimes, as in the last two examples, and especially when we apply generalizations to large groups of people, but usually, when we deal with individuals face-to-face, it does not take much time to “judge” those in front of us…usually correctly.

And so, when I interview people for jobs, I am completely judgmental. The way a person presents himself / herself and the first words the interviewee utters, pretty much tell me what I need to know about the person, even without reading the curriculum vitae. Rarely do things change during the course of the interview to make me believe that I judged someone wrongly.

We keep being judgmental about our police force as well, assuming them to be boorish or corrupt or hard-nosed encounter specialists, especially in our films. We have to keep reminding ourselves constantly that this is not really true and that policemen are human beings like us…some good, some bad, some indifferent!

Yet, the events over the last few weeks, keep cementing the stereotype. The raid on the LIV bar and its aftermath, the arrest of Mr. Ravi for sending a tweet, Mr. Aseem Trivedi being charged for treason and countless similar examples, make us wonder what the hell is wrong. When we have serious crime happening where the perpetrators never seem to get caught or if they are, seem to get away easily all the time, how do our keepers of law and order even find the time to bother about these “moral” issues? Why is all of this so important suddenly? Why is it that the police lands up on the dot at 11.00 PM to stop a dandia, but never responds fast enough when called at the time of a rape or a murder or a gang-fight?

I would like to be the kind of non-judgmental person Shashi wants us to be. But when it comes to our men in uniform, it is becoming very, very difficult to not to be judgmental!


  • Pushpendra Shah wrote:

    Once Bitten, Twice Shy….
    Is that not being judgmental also – in the manner of self-preservation?
    Yes, Bhavin, it is natural for us to store our experiences, and then use the same experiences to judge whatever else follows.
    I have yet to go and see Sridevi, a favourite actress of the recent past which is fast becoming the distant past…

  • We should try to know the person or the issue n then be judgmental, it’s right not to be judgmental at first sight. Well written article

  • Not trying to be judgmental.
    This morning between 7.30 and 8 my son and I stopped at the Madras Coffee house at Kings Circle. The place was packed. Parking outside was haywire and to add to this bikes running on the pavement.(not that this does not happen in other places)
    Thought we would have a good helping of the SI stuff, but the samber was full of water, maybe due to the rush. The only salvation was the coffee, but then it was cold….

  • V.Subramanian wrote:

    A fine piece on elemental characteristic, dominant amongst Indians. The perception is that people in the west are less opinionated.
    We are generally more than eager to prove that we are equally knowledgable if not more and hence are more than forthcoming with our unsolicited views.Most of us indulge in “Labelling” at least in our minds. While such traits are integral for a robust debating society, it could also land one into contraversies and cause frictions in relations.

    But when it comes to public life it is becoming increasing important to voice our protest for the common good and to that extent be judgmental about the state,administration and our politicians.

    The success of “English Vinglish”, considering the fact that it was probably not targeted for the larger audience,is solely attributed to Sridevi. The film leaves the audience with the unanswered question as to why not “The India”, presuming that the audience is aware of the grammatical explanation. Balki,in a sense was being judgemental.


  • Yes, I would not like to be judgemental.Who am I to judge?

  • We have been taught to be judgemental as we normally take after those around us like our parents, elderly relatives, teachers. By the time we realize it, it has become a behavioral pattern. Then it becomes lot of effort to correct it. Most people don’t reach the realization stage at all. English vinglish is a sensitively made movie and aptly represents the inequality and lack of respect in close relationships. It does leave a lump and sridevi has lived the role. What a fine portrayal. Being judgemental cannot be wrong under all circumstances. If the special task force officers had not misjudged the terrorists , they would not have lost their lives confronting them without bullet proofing themselves in the 26/11 attacks.

  • Armaity Surendra Patel wrote:

    Hi Bhavin,
    You rightly write that ” being judgemental is in our blood.” No matter how many times we are told not to prejudge people, we tend to do so. either from their behaviour, or how they are dressed or where they stay, etc.
    Once i had gone to Rama Krishna Hospital for some check up, recommended by a doctor friend. Since i was not well another friend had sent me with car and driver. As I was waiting in the lounge to see the doctor the driver approached me and said that he had parked the car near by and I could call him after finishing. As soon as the driver left, a couple,i.e. father and daughter looked at me and uttered loud enough for me to hear that “Wah, bade logo bhi charity hospital may aatey hai!” Well I did get a bit offended, but laughed it off as they weree ignorant about my means. But their long stares never stopped!
    Like that how many of us are judgemental all the time.
    A good writeup evolving round the word “Judgemental” !! Keep up your interesting and thought provoking articles.
    Kind Regards

  • jamna varadhachary wrote:

    Yes it has always been “us vs them” Each community neatly labelled in our minds. I am hopeful things will change with so many youngsters marrying outside their community.

  • I think judging someone correctly depends on individual intellectual capacity,good observational powers and knowledge of human nature.It is said that Sardar Patel used to judge people as they entered the room,within first few steps taken by them.Like him there are some people,whose judgement is correct 99% of the times.And their success is attributed to this capacity.

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