We have had our share of epic period dramas, biopics and rom-coms in the past few months. Now it is the time for a satire. Bollywood has never done this genre much justice, but Saket Chaudhary, director of Pyaar Ke Side Effects and its sort of sequel, Shaadi Ke Side Effects, tries his luck here with Hindi Medium. Irrfan Khan and Pakistani actress Saba Qamar play the lead in the movie that takes a scathing look at how screwed up the school admission process has become in India. So has the movie managed to make its point clear in its presentation? Read our review ahead to find out...
What's it about
Raj Batra (Irrfan Khan) is a garment businessman based in Chandni Chowk, who deals with original imitations of Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi's creations. Though he is not very well educated, his over-bearing, demanding wife Mita (Saba Qamar) has done her schooling from a local English medium school. However, she wants her daughter to study in one of Delhi's five topmost schools. To ensure that, she even nags her husband into agreeing to move to a richer neighbourhood and change their style of living. However despite all their efforts, their daughter doesn't get admission in four schools. In a desperate attempt to keep his wife happy, Raj tries to get his kid admitted to the remaining one school through gareeb quota by nefarious means. But in a twist of fate, they had to really move into a poor neighbourhood for a month to validate their admission status or land themselves in jail for fraud. As they live among the poor, they realise they have got their priorities about life all wrong.
For a satire to work, the humour and the writing should be very effective. Thankfully in the case of Hindi Medium, the movie has succeeded to a large extent in justifying these two aspects. The dialogue, especially those delivered by Irrfan, are witty and manage to elicit a chuckle every now and then. When Bollywood has often hesitated in taking on social issues fearing controversies, I am glad that Hindi Medium takes on one of the most pertinent issues affecting our society - the circus behind school admissions. The writers have tried to address the issues without getting too preachy (except for the climax), and they have done it in a light-hearted manner.
Some of the events shown in the movie may look exaggerated, but like Naagin, the soap Raj watches, we Indians love exaggeration. There are scenes where the movie highlights the corruption in this system. It feels shocking to see how rich take advantage of the quota reserved for poor for their own needs. Like one character in the movie says, they have taken their jobs, future, essentials and now they are even hijacking their chance for education. However, it's not just the administrators of educational systems that the movie is poking fun at, it's our own mentality. Having studied in a government school myself and turning out okay (I guess), I can't understand this generation's obsession with sending kids to only convent schools even if it can make them struggle a lot with the finances. While Mita's adamance in getting her daughter an admission in a posh school may look irritating, I have my own friends and colleagues who have shown the same kind of behaviour. Why, even the people with lesser means in the movie are shown having an aversion for their kids to go and study in a government school. We forget the fact that some lessons are not learnt in four walls or on laptops and tabs, but by mingling with friends and even falling down once too often. And that's the message Saket succeeds in imparting, especially in the second half.
While the first has many LOLs (as one girl in the movie calls it) moments, the second half has some emotional ones that will touch. Most of them come from Deepak Dobriyal, a really fine actor whom we have so underused. If he made you laugh in Tanu Weds Manu, he will move you to tears in a couple of scenes here. He is a real scene-stealer in the second half. Coming to the main leads, Irrfan Khan is terrific as always using his dry comic sense of timing in the best possible manner. Even in the emotional scenes, he packs a punch, especially with his speech in the climax. Saba Qamar surprises you with a very effective performance, acting as a perfect foil to Irrfan's act. I was disappointed with what Raees did with Mahira's role, but Saba gets a very meaty part with a nice arc and she does complete justice to it. The kid who plays their daughter is very cute. Among the supporting cast, Tilottama Shome as the admission consultant and Amrita Singh as the business-minded principal stand out. The children's song that plays in the scene where they showed the poor conditions of a government school will make you misty-eyed.
Though I loved the way the director puts his message across in the movie, I do wonder if it would have been more effective if he had avoided relying on the usage of caricatures and cliches to make his point. The 'rich people' in the movie have no personality apart from being snobby, and actors Sanjay Suri and Neha Dhupia, who represent this quota, get no scope. Although it is up to us to overlook these and enjoy the movie as it is, but the screenplay is very convenient and has a lot of loopholes. In an era, where companies use Facebook and Twitter profiles to validate their employees, it is a wonder why the official from Amrita Singh's school never looked at that option to catch Raj and Mita's lies. Also how did Raj manage his business for a month when he was acting like a poor man is left unaddressed. The romantic song at the start was quite unnecessary, unless the movie wanted to tell us how Raj and Mita even got together. The climax may have raised certain pertinent points, but it was a bit stretched and it reminded of the climax scene in Remo D'Souza's FALTU.