What Irrfan Khan's Hindi Medium Could Have Taught Us But It Didn't

Supriya Baid Supriya Baid in Bakkar. Chai. Sutta on 21 May, 2017

In a country where knowing English is more important than knowing the name of your great grandfather, Hindi Medium looked all geared up to raise a very valid social debate of how English is used as a reference for social discrimination here. With an actor as solid as Irrfan Khan as the face of this cause, the expectations were further notched up.

And Hindi Medium probably couldn’t get a better audience than me, who is both a film buff and a Hindi enthusiast. I distinctly remember wanting to take up Hindi for my bachelors’ degree, even taking an entrance exam, clearing it with flying colours, still not opting for it because  it was obviously ‘uncool’ for ‘toppers’ and ‘bright’ students like me to take up Arts, least of all Hindi! I eventually went on to study one of the ‘coolest’ courses in one of the ‘best’ colleges of the city.

From once underplaying my love for Hindi to embracing it with uninhibited elan at academic and professional fronts today, my Hindi story has many cultural stories and social reflections in it! So, even before the release, I felt a sense of personal attachment with the film.

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But the film sadly turned out to be like the typical Hindi teacher from school days- who meant no harm, but was never ‘happening’  or ‘smart’ enough to make us pay serious  attention to his subject; and who was mostly an object of ridicule for his/her stereotypical ways.

Raj Batra (Irrfan Khan) is a self-made and sufficiently happy man with a clothes store in Chandni Chowk. But his wife, played effectively by Saba Qamar, wants them to move to a posh neighbourhood because it would be the first step towards ensuring their daughter’s admission in an English medium school, which is a mandate for her success. Hence, begins the mad struggle of trying to get the kid into a certain kind of an educational institution to be able to fit into a certain kind of society and achieve a certain kind of success.

So the central idea is- we (meaning most of us) consider this certain kind to be the superior kind and it is totally a mental problem.

The current educational system is simply the flag bearer of this mental problem suffered by most Indians. This one-line clarity and depth was expected in a film smartly named Hindi Medium (the phrase has a cultural connotation more than what meets the eye). But the film looks confused. It mixes up issues, tries to say multiple things and hence, manages to say nothing at all. 

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It apparently raises the hindi-angrezi point, connects it with schools that are more like business houses, the madness of school admissions, and then also gets into the ameer-gareeb issue! A powerhouse of a performance by Irrfan Khan, supported ably by Saba Qarim, the light comic treatment of relatable situations and Irrfan’s terrific comic timing make the film seem watchable and relevant in the first half. But it completely dips and loses meat in the second half despite introducing another powerhouse performer Deepak Dobriyal. And what’s with equating 'gareebi’ to virtues and ‘amiri’ to snobbish ways?

That the size of the pocket is inversely proportional to the size of the heart is a stereotype so stale that even Rajshri productions would stay away from it.

We’ve all seen (and experienced too) desperate parents instructing their kids to speak only in English; businesses thriving on parents’ desperation to put their kids in ‘elite’ schools, teens taking pride in their broken Hindi, people with lack of English speaking skills considered non-competent on every front.

English is not just the language of communication, but the language of lifestyle, the language of success. Hindi Medium had enough scope to explore this and make a point. But it simply loses the chance.  

We care for English much more than other non English countries because we’ve been ‘cared for’ by Englishmen for over 200 years! And Indians are not an ungrateful bunch! We take atithi devo bhava quite seriously! Irony! Probably a bigger irony that despite Hindi being my first language (of choice, and of command), I’m writing this in English! Because, can an article in Hindi garner enough readers and takers? Oh puhleez!