Things are changing in Bollywood. Now you have two types of movies coming out: one, the big-budget-drama-filled, emotional-melodrama ones (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil), and two, the low-budget, offbeat, more grounded to reality (Piku) that come out from nowhere and steals out hearts– while making lots of money at the same time.
Hindi Medium is the latter kind. It is a movie that needs to be watched not purely for its acting prowess from the main leads, but for the subject matter, it raises- namely, the flawed school education system that places pressure on parents to be well versed in English. For the uninitiated, the title of the movie Hindi Medium refers to the school system where students are taught in the Hindi language.
The movie opens up in Delhi where we meet Raj Batra, a successful owner of a hugely popular fashion house. With suave marketing skills in wooing and convincing customers, Raj is only held back from the fact that he cannot speak English. His wife, Mitu, is also in the same boat. She is very keen to get her 5-year-old daughter, Pia, admitted into one of the Delhi’s best school, Delhi Grammar School.
In the process of admission, both Raj and Mitu find out that the parents are also interviewed. Since both of them are not competent in English nor are polished and groomed to fit into what society prescribes to as “high class.” So the parents enlist the help of a consultant who teaches them how to answer correctly and proper manners. Despite this, their daughter fails to get admission.
The consultant suggests the parents to make use of the Right to Education act, which basically states that a child from a poor family can be admitted into the school. Raj and Mitu downgrade their lifestyle and move into a poor locality along with their daughter to pose as a poverty-stricken family. There they develop a close bond with one of the neighbors, who help them adjust to a life of poverty (no water, no food, knowing when to fight etc).
I won’t get into the rest of the movie, for I will spoil the surprise with the various twists and turns that happen but we get to follow the family’s journey and repercussions of their actions. But I will get into what amazing actors there are in Irfan Khan and Saba Qamar.
Irfan Khan, playing the role of the father and husband Raj, is one incredible actor. He is so natural in his role I was convinced his character is a real person. His mannerisms and dialogue delivery is impeccable and evokes a sense of sympathy for the character. Irfan Khan is a very talented actor, having proven his mettle in Bollywood and Hollywood. You cannot go wrong with his kind of talent.
Saba Qamar, what can I say about her, except that she did us Pakistanis very proud. It was sheer joy watching her act, get under the skin of the character and emoting at all the right places without being over dramatic. She brought her own mannerisms and quirkiness to Mitu, for example how she overthinks of a situation where if things don’t work out her daughter will slip into depression. Saba Qamar needs to be commended big time for holding her own against a giant actor like Irfan Khan. You will forget all our previous Pakistani actresses who’ve acted in Bollywood- including Mahira Khan in Raees.
Having said that, there are some minor (if not major) loopholes in the plot. How come the 5-year-old child doesn’t question the fact she moves from a rich neighborhood to a poor dwelling? Or why she’s being changed from one school to another? The technicalities of the daughter’s admission into the school also beg some suspension of disbelief. The whole idea of how students are preselected for admission also seems a little farfetched.
Personally, I feel two songs could have been eliminated as they dragged the movie time a little. The supporting actors played their part well, but hardly any memorable characters.
These are minor quips I have which shouldn’t deter anyone from watching this brilliant movie. The message is clear, the movie is wonderful and the acting is par excellence. At the end of the day, it does leave a strong message about why people from India (and Pakistan) develop a complex when it comes to the English language. There is a lot of food for thought as this movie is an excellent springboard to discuss the faults in the private education sector, even in Pakistan. I often meet people here in Lahore who want to improve on their English language speaking skills in order to secure better jobs and a better life. Other issues are glossed over, such as rich vs poor, high class vs low class, English vs. Hindi and so on.
As Raj says in the movie, “when the French and Spanish have no problem speaking broken English, why do the Indians develop a complex when speaking broken English?” Food for thought indeed!
4 out of 5
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Sauket Chaudhry
Cast: Irfaan Khan, Saba Qamar
Synopsis: Desperate to get their daughter admitted into one of the best English school in Delhi, the parents go to extreme lengths to do so, including pretending to be a poor family, with some dire consequences.
Running time: 133 mins
Seen at: Cinestar, Xinhua Mall, Lahore