Synopsis – A couple from Chandni Chowk aspire to give their daughter the best education and thus be a part of and accepted by the elite of Delhi.
My Take – There are no doubts that the current Indian education system has clearly become a money-making ploy, where the right to educate a child has become costlier than most of the professional or vocational courses in our country. Schools continue to set a trend of charging exorbitant fees in lieu of tuition fee, capitation fee, donation, extra-curricular activities’ fund etc. With the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act’ or ‘Right to Education Act (RTE)’ enforcement on 1st April 2010, India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right to every child between the ages of 6 and 14. While, if this act really does require all private schools to reserve 25% of seats for the children from families of low economic status is still doubtful, this act has many other relevant clauses too in favor of students. It also makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. Beginning with class differences, language divides, superiority complexes, and the almost killing tension parents experience at school admission time and the snob value of a south Delhi address – they all come together in director Saket Chaudhary’s film a satire on the Indian education system, that not only upholds Hindi as the linguistic supreme but emphasizes more on India’s obsession with English. This film is one of those rare and brave attempts that try to explain the social situation rising above melodramas and unnecessary actions by not only thought- provoking but also sending out a great social message. The pure innocence of the story makes you feel that is a very relevant film as it showcases various issues viz. Social Divide between English and Hindi speaking people, the discrimination between government schools and private school’s facilities, the school admission scams etc., but in a very light-hearted manner.
An adaptation of the Malayalam Film Salt Mango Tree, the story follows Raj Batra (Irrfan Khan), a smooth-talking fashion store owner from Chandni Chowk, who has made enough money selling gaudy garments to Bollywood fashion-addicted customers to forget that once upon a time, he was a humble tailor’s assistant. Raj is hardly cut out of the cloth as his wife Mita (Saba Qamar), but their mutual adoration since childhood has ensured a happy marriage. Mita’s sole aim is to get their daughter Piya Batra admitted in a posh English Medium school to ensure a good future for her. For the sake of their child, Mita is even convincingly persuades Raj to move out of their Chandni Chowk home in East Delhi to high fi Vasant Vihar in the south of the capital, in order to adapt to the lifestyles the so-called elite people of Delhi & with the hope that by doing so, their daughter’s admission to the prestigious schools of their choice won’t get declined. However, despite hiring a consultant (Tilottama Shome) and training themselves for the mandatory English based interviews, Pia’s applications are rejected. Even when Raj’s attempts to bribe his way through falters, the only option remains is now to forge themselves an ‘economically backward section documents’ to get Pia a seat in the reserved 25% and fortify & clear the inspection, the three move into the Bharat Nagar slum, where they meet good Samaritan neighbors in the form of Shyam Prakash (Deepak Dobriyal) and wife Tulsi (Swati Das), who teach them a new meaning of life. The film explores the desperation of parents as they go to great lengths to give the best education to their children. Also, it tells us how big institutions can tweak the admission process. In the end, it leaves you with many questions. Is it worth it? Making your child study in a school where she may never be able to fit? Should English be the only thing distinguishing between who gets admission and who doesn’t? Director Saket Chaudhary in his third film after Pyaar ke Side Effects and Shaadi ke Side Effect focuses on Indian parents’ obsession who wants to send their kids to the high-profile schools despite exorbitant fees to learn English that will help them to be accepted in the society and land a job in MNC. A dialogue from Irrfan Khan “If French and German speaks incorrect Hindi, it is still fine but when an Indian does not speak proper English, then that person holds no value in the society. The film is a laugh-riot and few scenes will definitely bring down the house, like the scene at the factory where Irrfan wants to go for a bio-break gets interrupted by his boss is hilarious, also sequences of parents queuing up in the lines for school admission in the wee hours to the Batras spending enormous amounts of time and money training themselves and their preschool-aged daughter for English language interviews – explain India’s obsession with English. Another scene at the Government school where a son of a Tourist guide displays his skills by speaking English, German and even French languages proving that talent has no boundary. Hats off to Saket Chaudhary for bringing something new on the Indian silver screen. Choudhary’s English language divide works more like a caste divide. For, it plays an instrumental role in determining which friends the kids would have, what schools they will study at, where they will holiday, and of course which MNC they would work at. Director Saket Choudhary’s film not just talks about the desperate attempts of parents to help their kids seek quality education, but it also explains the viewers the dual system – one meant for the well-heeled and other for the poor – that exists in India. It also describes how at one end of the spectrum, people have well-equipped schools while on the other only buildings lacking basic facilities – an inequality that clearly divides India (the former) from Bharat (the latter).
On the face of it, the film is an indictment of the education system, but it is more than that. It is also a comment on the hierarchies among the wealthy, a nuance that commercial Hindi cinema has rarely captured. Besides, it is so enjoyable until that exasperating finale, that it would be unfair to write it off because of the lasting impact of the lapses in the conclusion. Also, while the film sets out to be a fun film which should not be taken seriously in its entirety, it oscillates from a satire to a social commentary. Some plot points are exaggerated for effect while the others are a harsh reality. The viewer tends to get confused between the two categories and might end up believing the exaggerated notes while overlooking the factual ones. The film makes a point – several points, in fact – by being simple and straightforward yet not simplistic. The film’s achievement is that it tells us things we already know yet forces us to think about them, and has lots of fun while doing so. It would have been tempting to resort to clichés that formulaic Hindi films have often favored: the poor are all saints, the rich are all evil, good folk are flawless, the bad beyond redemption. Or the ones being peddled by the present political establishment in India: all Hindi speakers are rooted and humble, while English speakers are the snooty spoil sports. The reason why the film works for the most part is because for the most part the screenplay by Zeenat Lakhani and Saket Chaudhary steers clear of cheap populism and strikes a balance between being critical of a certain elite yet not tarring everyone with the same brush: that consultant, for instance, is superficial and harsh, but that classmate (Sanjay Suri) is kind. However, like every film, this one has its share of flaws as well, starting with the 1st sequence, where we get to see Raj and Mita as teenagers Sanjana Sanghi & Delzad Hiwale and), with Raj instantly smitten, he goes into the typical Bollywood lover/stalker mode with Atif Aslam crooning Hoor in the background, however, when it fast forwards to the present, we have no idea about the sudden economic change of the characters & how the two got together. The second half also becomes a little drag towards the end and climax becomes little melodramatic, also, the editing should have been better trimming the film by another 10-12 mins. At times, it feels like the film is missing point and extending some not-so-important sequences. The highlight of the film is of course, yet another effortless performance from Irrfan Khan. An actor to reckon with, He blends with every character he plays on screen and adds lot of value to the same. Even after one leaves the theater, his acting remains in heart and mind. Pakistani Actress Saba Qamar, is not just very beautiful, she is also very talented, & completely natural and convincing as Mita. Much of the film’s flavor comes from the right pairing of Irrfan & Saba Qamar. The two have a chemistry that comes from the comfort level they enjoy. Watching them fight, interact, argue and express love adds so much more to their characters. The supporting cast is spot on too, Deepak Dobriyal is yet again wonderful performance, while Tillotama Shome, Swati Das and Amrita Singh are very good. There are also some likable fleeting cameos from Neha Dhupia, Sanjay Suri and Mallika Dua. On the whole, ‘Hindi Medium’ is a very watchable lighthearted entertainer that uses humor to successfully touch upon a relevant issue.
Directed – Saket Chaudhary
Rated – PG
Run Time – 132 minutes