News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay

This article was first published 7 years ago  » Movies » Review: Hindi Medium is a fascinatingly frustrating film

Review: Hindi Medium is a fascinatingly frustrating film

By Sreehari Nair
Last updated on: May 19, 2017 11:55 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

Hindi Medium works because it manages to stretch itself beyond its scrubby elements, easy half-baked jokes, lessons about consumerism and our love for English, into a simple story about a boy who would do anything to see his girl smile, feels Sreehari Nair.

It is the Spirit of the Age: Assigning every damn thing a supposed political ideology.

Just last week, a friend let me in on the secret that superhero movies are actually a part of the American Right's propaganda machinery, and further argued that pani puri is a 'left liberal snack'.

Since this is a game of status seeking, I seek to achieve mine by slotting Saket Choudhary's Hindi Medium as a left conservative movie. And my argument isn't entirely without reasons.

Hindi Medium reserves its worst caricatures for the rich and the wannabe rich.

It classifies snobbery and snootiness as the poison values of our time.

It proclaims that the essence of 'being human' can be discovered in the gutbucket life and asserts that our system is heavily rigged on the side of the wealthy.

In its incessant stereotyping and lack of polish, the picture sets itself up for panning, and do expect some critical backlash from people with better artistic tastes than Choudhary.

However, I believe that his artistic triumphs here aren't insignificant even if his readings and portrayals of certain social maladies turn out to be rather skew-whiff.

The points that Hindi Medium makes -- while not entirely original -- aren't pushed through with an intention of confirming your pre-existing biases.

In the past, when 3 Idiots announced our education system sucks, we first said 'Amen to that.' Then laughed hard at the monkey tricks.

We felt as though the movie spoke for us.

But then, you see, it wasn't difficult to love 3 Idiots or PINK for the simple reason that those movies clearly took their 'target audience' in their stride.

Hindi Medium's courage is that it turns against the very audience it is talking to.

And to top that, the movie doesn't quite exult in any of the revelations it makes.

At the end of the film, Irrfan Khan's Raj delivers a rousing (think Irrfan-type rousing and not Aamir Khan-type rousing) speech with all the trappings of his dehati character in place -- a speech, which, in a Rajkumar Hirani movie, would have brought about an instant, sweeping social change.

Here, the speech changes nothing.

And when Raj finally walks out, with only his wife by his side, a defeatist tone takes over the scene.

I don't know about you, but I was charmed by the despondency expressed in that moment.

There are few other charms that seem almost incidental.

In one of the early scenes, Raj's wife Mita (played by Saba Qamar) stops in her tracks when she accidentally runs into Sanjay Suri.

Mita and Suri know each other from college -- in present time, she swims in a sea of awkwardness and he is all buffed up and gentlemanly.

Were they lovers in college; what is their exact history, we wonder.

The movie never tells us because it isn't important.

What's important is to know that that chance meeting changes things for Mita -- she is now pushing the piston inside her with twice the intensity.

It is this constant piston-pushing that had inspired the Chandni Chowk girl to make the travel from her mohalla to upmarket Vasant Vihar.

And now, she also desires all the spoils that come with living in a posh locality -- on the top of which spoils-list is getting her daughter admitted in one of Delhi's best schools.

Hindi Medium is about the vaudeville that ensues as the parents play status games with an intention of achieving their end.

The film draws its class-related humour from the same reservoir as Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks, but Choudhary never quite works on expanding the reality of the scenarios.

Like for example, in a scene where Raj and Mita run over to check if their daughter Pia's name has been listed on the admission sheet, they go through the entire sheet but don't find her name anywhere.

A smarter director would have tried to ramp-up the believability in the scene while discovering an extra joke in the fact that the name Pia is so common. But there are no Pias on that sheet, none absolutely!

In every scene, Choudhary and his writers try reaching out for the nearest available tune, and miss many overlapping rhythms -- which they then cover up using Gong- and Cuckoo Clock-sounds.

Saket Choudhary's first two films were toolkit manuals on Love and Marriage. Like Prakash Jha, who points you to the social truths you so want to see and get agitated by (movie plots created out of Trending News), Choudhary in his first two movies -- Pyaar Ke Side Effects and Shaadi Ke Side Effects -- gave us social jokes whose set-ups and release points you knew like remote buttons.

Like Jha's movies often do, Choudhary's movies offended me by their sheer inoffensiveness.

In line with the director's previous half-farces, I was getting ready to call this one Consumerism Ke Side Effects when Choudhary and his writers suddenly introduced a plot diversion that extended the bounds of the farce: The husband-wife team now have to lower their status to ensure that their daughter gets through via the Right to Education quota.

The real subtext hinted here is that Raj and Mita are always up on the stage: At the start, they are 'acting rich' and by the intermission they are 'acting poor'.

Theirs is a life that has come a semicircle.

In this segment, we are introduced to Deepak Dobriyal who gives Hindi Medium the wild charge it needed.

Dobriyal is the kind of actor you are compelled to read straight, keeping all your cynicism aside.

Here -- in what is a running gag -- Dobriyal with his eyes popping tries to do the thinking on Raj's behalf.

In a moment of honest contrivance, he pushes Raj out of an ATM booth, assuming that he must be stealing from it, and then motions at the CCTV camera to take it easy.

Surprisingly enough, it's in such scenes of passive-aggressive karate that Irrfan's mastery over his craft also comes blazing through -- the back-and-forth there has the feel of improvised theatre.

There's also a similar scene in the first half where Irrfan tag-teams with Tillotama Shome as an exchange occurs over the word 'Lollypop'.

In those scenes, templates are sidestepped, little behavioural patterns are noted, and the movie gives you the feeling of a madly ecstatic rumpus-room.

Saba Qamar is a far better actress than what this role will give her credit for. There is a natural toughness about her that is here parodied, and which in a different movie would get its due.

There's also a sexual daring about Qamar's personality which, in this film, often cancels out her self-righteousness.

By dwelling on the obvious, and then taking leaps when you least expect it to, Hindi Medium turns itself into a fascinatingly frustrating movie.

There's no artistry here to behold, but there are moments when the film suggests that it knows more than it shows.

The first scene, for instance, has Irrfan and Saba's characters meeting as teenagers. Thinking about it now, I get it that it's his obsession for her, detailed in that scene that actually sets the base for the film's crazy logic.

Irrfan's artistic intelligence becomes evident in the way he constantly glues his character to that first meeting; happily backing off when Saba requests for some time alone, and crying as he leaves his mohalla for her (this must be Irrfan's first full-fledged crying scene, and he makes it consciously hammy).

I have always maintained that actors such as Irrfan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui are special because they help us discover newer sources of empathy, and at points where you least expect to be won over.

Hindi Medium works because it somehow manages to stretch itself beyond its scrubby elements, easy half-baked jokes, lessons about consumerism and our love for English, into a simple story about a boy who would do anything to see his girl smile.

There's an oasis of sanity there.

Rediff Rating:
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Sreehari Nair