Previously, films like 3 Idiots (2009), Get Educated: Paathshaala (2010), F.A.L.T.U. (2011), Taare Zameen Par (2007), Nil Battey Sannata (2016) and Chalk N Duster (2016) have explored issues with the Indian education system in their own way. One of the best ways of getting an important message across is through humour. But satires are also not the easiest to make. Director Saket Chaudhary's Hindi Medium sets out to make a satirical comment on parents' struggle to get their kids into a private English-medium school and the problems with the Indian education system.
'English is not a language in India, it's a class' and 'English is India and India is English' — these dialogues from Hindi Medium elicit laughs while making a relevant point on the class divide and ever-growing language barrier in our country.
Raj Batra (Irrfan Khan) and Mita Batra (Saba Qamar) are forced to navigate the complex education system to get their daughter into Delhi's top English-medium school at the kindergarten level. In a city like Delhi, the snob factor not only involves driving a BMW, wearing the choicest brands and living in an upscale area, but also speaking the English language, thanks, perhaps, to the inferiority complex inherited from the British era when only the elite class had the opportunity to learn the Queen's language. Mita believes her child studying in an elite private school will ensure her a bright future and equip her with skills to hobnob with the rich upper class.
The Chandni Chowk-bred Raj and Mita had fallen in love as teenagers when Raj was still a tailor's son. Now, he has grown up to be a self-made man who owns a boutique that sells copies of outfits designed by well-known designers. Even though he rises up the ladder financially, he is still the Hindi-speaking, unsophisticated man from Chandni Chowk. Wife Mita, on the other hand, is obssessed with fitting into high society and wants to be upwardly mobile. She often makes fun of her husband's lack of English-speaking skills, mocking him by asking him to spell words.
Even after going to great lengths, including moving to an upscale location, shelling out a bomb to hire a consultant, and trying to use influence, Raj and Mita are unable to secure admission into a English-medium school for their daughter. This is when they realize that despite being rich, their professional background, lack of education and inability to converse in English are major hurdles. They see no other way out but to apply in the gareeb quota (under the Right To Education Act) — reservation for the economically poor. Everything until this point is going great, the writing is spot on, and the laughs keep coming. The writing slips once the Batra family moves to the slums of the capital city. But more on that later.
Meanwhile, the performances from the lead actors are top notch. Khan is incredible as a simple man who makes some unethical decisions in trying really hard to be a good father and husband. He is at his best as he navigates the comic situations. He embodies the conflict between posh South Delhi and Chandni Chowk.
Saba Qamar comes as a great surprise. She deserves special mention for making Mita real and adorable despite her irritating demands of her husband and obsession with fitting into rich society. She is excellent in scenes as the paranoid mother, who, in every scenario, has nightmares of her daughter ending up as a drug addict. Both lead actors show great maturity in their comedy and emotions, lifting the film. Though the writing of Deepak Dobriyal's character is problematic, he still manages to render a touching performance as the naive poor neighbour of the couple.
The film is not without its flaws though. The writing of some characters is broad and caricaturish. A case in point is the robotic portrayal of the consultant (Tillotama Shome), who offers lessons in how to get your child admitted to the school of your choice, and the villainous depiction of the dodgy principal (Amrita Singh), who is perpetually angry.
The writing, by director Chaudhary and Zeenat Lakhani, dips in quality once the story moves into Delhi's slums, and also turns problematic. While the parents pursuing elite private school education for their children are depicted almost like villains — totally superficial, snobbish and without conscience — the poor are sentimentalized as noble, selfless and sacrificing.
Mita's sudden change of heart after being obsessed over her child's admission into a private school for so long is a little hard to digest. The last song, Khan's speech in the climax, and the handling of the last scene are certainly sore spots in an otherwise delightful film.
But Hindi Medium achieves what it sets out to. It makes you laugh and cry, and makes a strong comment on the education system. The worry and struggle of getting your child into school from probably the moment you concieve, the parent and child interview system which puts tremendous pressure, corruption in schools, use of donation and influence, endless quotas, poor state of government-run schools, admission queues, societal pressures to enrol in an English-medium school, the woes of the poor to get their children quality education — the film touches upon all these issues in an entertaining manner.
Satires are hard to pull off and director Chaudhary, who earlier made Pyar Ke Side Effects (2006) and Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014), makes a good attempt. While Hindi Medium is flawed, it is still extremely relevant and entertaining.
Review by Suparna Thombare