That India is suffering from a massive colonial hangover is no secret. As Irrfan says in the film, French or Germans speaking broken English is no big deal for us, but an Indian struggling with the Queen’s English? What a hopeless person! “Iss desh mein angrezi zabaan nahi hai, class hai,” Saba Qamar tells Irrfan in the film. Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium holds up a mirror to us educated folk and our quick judgment of what we call the ‘vernie type.’
Mita (Saba) and Raj (Irrfan) belong to the nouveau riche, mohalla folk who have risen in wealth after their business of making “original copies” of designer wear took off. But money alone doesn’t make you “high society”, and Mita’s aim is to get their daughter Pia admission in one of Delhi’s top English medium schools, by hook or by crook, to make her feel at home among the elite.
But schools are bigger and fancier than ever before (golf carts to take you across, temperature-controlled swimming pools et al), and being the child of Hindi medium-educated, shop-owner parents instantly puts you at a disadvantage in this dog-eat-dog world. An admissions consultant and multiple efforts later, Pia doesn’t make it, so Raj and Mita resort to a pretense of “gareebi” to get her name in the list reserved for those applying under the Right To Education Act. Will Pia make it?
Hindi Medium tries to drive home a powerful message, but in the attempt, resorts to black-and-white archetypes. From the snooty and sophisticated South Delhi type to the I-will-literally-put-my-life-at-stake-to-help-you poor, everyone is a stock character. The only grey character, perhaps, is the most inconsistent and perplexing one – the principal of the Delhi Grammar School, played by Amrita Singh. She clawed her way to the top from being the daughter of a maid servant in the school, and multiple instances show her to be intolerant of any attempts to buy a seat. Her 180-degree turn in the climax is poorly explained.
The first half evokes many laughs at Irrfan’s failed attempts to come across as polished, but much of the humour is lost in the second half which is more sentimental in tone. The climax is one that you see coming, but the journey to the finish is worth it.
If you look at performances, Hindi Medium is a winner. Irrfan, usually seen as a serious actor, shows that there is nothing he cannot do justice to. He effortlessly makes you laugh as the tailor’s-assistant-turned-mega-tycoon trying to fit in with the old money crowd. Saba Qamar is Pakistan’s finest export so far, and excels as the Chandni Chowk girl with social climbing aspirations. Tilottama Shome as the parents-consult-me-in-their-first-trimester admissions consultant and Deepak Dobriyal as the poor laborer with a heart of gold deserve a special mention.
Hindi Medium may use over-dramatised events to make its message hit home, but in spite of its hiccups, the film is not bogged down because of the performances and the humour.