Cast: Irrfan Khan, Saba Qamar, Deepak Dobriyal
Director: Saket Chaudhary
Raj Batra’s (Irrfan Khan) hilarious English prompts an uneasy laugh. You have known him for years. You have seen him struggling to fit into a class structure whose exclusivity lies in deduction. It’s a never ending saga of aspirations, humiliation and fight back.
Raj owns a fashion studio in Old Delhi and proudly calls himself a local tycoon. A typical rags to riches story, he seems comfortable in his own skin. Raj’s wife Meeta (Saba Qamar), who he fondly calls Mithoo, is determined to break into the Delhi ‘gentry’. She thinks moving to south Delhi’s posh Vasant Vihar will give validation to her family’s income and ambition to lead an upper-class life.
The Batras want a reputed school for their daughter Priya because they think that will be the final stamp in their upward climb.
This is where the fun begins.
Hindi Medium is director Saket Chaudhary’s third film after Pyaar Ke Side Effects and Shaadi Ke Side Effects. He likes to produce comedy out of ordinary. His grip over the Delhi lingo and body language is evident from the very first scene when Khan tries to convince Mallika Dua, a customer at his “studio”, to buy a Manish Malhotra replica.
Chaudhary probably sees Delhi as a place where the class war is always on. Remember the clash between Rahul Bose and Sharad Saxena in Pyaar Ke Side Effects?
In Irrfan, he finds the perfect person to demonstrate the ‘India Is English, English is India’ logic with a focus on the social divide. In the process, Hindi Medium exposes the absurdities of finding a “famous” school for your kid. It’s scarily close to the reality despite being dramatised.
From how people develop friendships in a queue to receive admission forms to not getting the difference between a five-star hotel and a school, Hindi Medium presents interesting takes on issues that affect our daily lives.
The ride becomes even more joyous when Sham Prakash (Deepak Dobriyal) enters the game. As a daily wage innocent worker whose humanity is intact despite hardships, he represents the other side of the social pyramid.
The issue of school admission might be the central thread of the story, but it’s the representation of the class struggle that makes Hindi Medium an important film.
It’s been a while since we saw the poor leading the charge in recent mainstream Bollywood films. Even if there are films, it’s hard to recall them instantly. And the good things don’t just stop here.
Hindi Medium fetches our attention to the hard life urban kids are leading in the name of getting an education. Tillotama Shome’s career counsellor is a brilliantly written character here. She is so good that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry when she says, “People book me when they are in their first trimester.”
This is all real, though it may not be exactly in this way.
One thing that may bother some of us is the toning down of the anger against the class divide. It’s a harsh reality and can be dealt with rage. Such a system needs to be recognised as a tool of suppression used by the rich. Khan appears non-confrontational in the beginning and finds his aggression only later in the film.
Irrfan as the lover of soap opera Naagin is subtle and precise. His backstory serves the film in more than one way. It helps Qamar’s character flourish. As an understanding and deeply in love husband, Khan is a treat to watch in Hindi Medium. Qamar is equally effective and funny as a wife who keeps saying ‘stand ho jao’ and ‘lonely and depressed’.
Dobriyal is the third solid pillar of Hindi Medium. His painful expressions may haunt you for days.
Hindi Medium is a much-needed comment on the private school system and how it has become so important in our lives. It’s also a lesson for the concerned officials, who turn a blind eye to government schools that have millions of potential winners.
A little preachy and over-dramatic towards the end, Hindi Medium strongly drives its point home. Chaudhary’s film has immense repeat value.
You are likely to empathise with Qamar when she says, “Iss desh me angrezi zabaan nahi class hai,” (English is not a language but class in this country).
And if you don’t then you might be a part of the group that wants the status quo.