There’s something about the nouveau riche. Their struggle to get along with the rich and famous, better education for children, the classier way of life and the works. Hindi cinema mostly struggled or easily resorted to safe zones while canvassing this strata of society. Sridevi in Judaai was a rulebook specimen and, without doubt, was an instant hit back in the 90s. Times have changed, cinema is consciously attempting stories minus labels. Is it for good or otherwise? Not something Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium considers worthy of a thought.
To begin with, the film’s most spirited performer, Pakistani actor Saba Qamar, is saddled with the least convincing part. Reminiscent of Sushmita Sen in demeanour, she plays a mother who’s hell bent to get her child admitted to a top of the heap school. Meeta’s (Qamar) characterization, anyhow, is weirder than you would ever imagine. She’s beautiful, sophisticated and is known to be proficient in English although we never hear her speak a full sentence in the language. She keeps throwing spelling challenges on her school dropout husband. Fair enough. Then again, she isn’t the DPS, LSR-brand elite (she can’t pronounce this, while most other words are spot on). Meeta, somehow, is strangely acquainted with one of the high-society neighbours (Sanjay Suri) who apparently was a college-mate (!!!). Now, this narrative detail contradicts with her background with husband, Raj (Irrfan), whom she was dating since her teenage days. For once you wonder why this familiarity angle exists in the first place, as it offers nothing to the plot. It is just THERE for no reason than to baffle the hell out of us and is unexplained till the end – much like the film and its confused objective.
Irrfan in one of his rare uninspiring turns looks more at ease in his Syska LED Bulb TVCs than this film. Nevertheless, the writers (director Chaudhary and Zeenat Lakhani) serve him better justice and even reserves smarter lines. Who can (under)play it to the gallery as good as this man? Irrfan’s Raj is the hen-pecked husband whose bedroom adventures hit a halt upon hearing a bad news on TV. He rides a luxury car but knows no head or tail of the society his wife tries to fit him into. Even though most of it fails to converge to a point that it makes thorough sense, Khan’s innate charisma is hard to ignore.
Hindi Medium is one film that consciously runs on formula. It has the ‘issue-based’ label right on its nose. The screenplay structure is so conventional that we see everything pan out and how. Not to mention the mandatory climactic monologue. Given the audience they’re catering to, it isn’t much of a crime either. Problem arises when the writers leaves Jupiter-sized loopholes in the plot. To point one out of many, an employee of Raj secures admission for his child in a coveted school. The same admission that Raj and Meeta were eyeing. Now given the track of intense training they were undergoing (from a happy, smiling Tillotama Shome), we are in for a massive confusion. All of it for a momentary laugh? Guess it was our fault to expect anything realistic to begin with.
So, what is likeable in Hindi Medium? I must say, the intent is gold. The initial portions, especially where the couple gets trained, offer genuine fun. This is certainly a story worth telling, we tell ourselves. Saket Chaudhary employs the sprightly Deepak Dobriyal as the dramatic, warm Shyam Prakash. A biscuit factory worker, Shyam Prakash is so poor that people never called him by his name (ah, well). For the fact that he is miraculously present everywhere (including a facepalm-inducing road accident), writing is far from fool proof here. Only till Dobriyal mesmerizes us with an ample dose of unadulterated honesty. His final scene forms the film’s finest few minutes, albeit a been-there-seen-that culmination. Likewise, the film is not short of tiny moments that either try to make sense or are just plain witty. The opening scene for instance is an absolute winner, if we set aside our notions on how a middle-class, educated Delhi girl would behave. They might just do.
Getting back, it is midway through Hindi Medium that the makers completely lose track. Is it about the ways of our education system or about the economic divide? The film, also, misses out on establishing how Hindi ought not to be looked down upon. There is one scene where a neighbour (Neha Dhupia, why?) instructs her son not to speak in Hindi. This is a relatable trope. Later we see the principal (Amrita Singh, dull) of the same school who looks, speaks and behaves like anything but a dean of an institution of national repute. The film is full of redundant language references to evoke laughter but isn’t like the child in question wouldn’t learn English if not for an A-list school. The film’s intent about education (inclusive of personality development) somehow transpires into the language kernel towards the end. Hindi Medium, in these areas, resembles the leading lady’s chameleon-like indecision. Both are so adamant at frequently surprising us that we get another before we are done gasping at one.
The rich are fake and manipulative. The poor are kind and down-to-earth. Saket Chaudhary delivers a ‘highly’ acceptable message in a film that clearly caters to the former – ones that would buy popcorn worth 400 bucks in a premium multiplex. Then again, that’s just what the film ends up being. A popcorn entertainer that gets erased from your mind even before you reach the elevator from the auditorium.
Rating: ★★ 1/2
P.S.: For a film that literally preaches its message out, Hindi Medium funnily ends with an English song, the rendition of which is anything but ‘desi’. Okay then!