In this age of escapist cinema, a filmmaker takes up a major issue and instead of preaching, has the skill to turn it into a satire, is cause enough to applaud Saket Chaudhary. His Hindi Medium is a light-hearted look at the class structure in India, which is defined by the ability to speak English with the right accent, going to the right schools, living in snooty upmarket areas, holidaying in the right spots and so on. (This week’s other release Half Girlfriend also touches upon this English snobbery.)
Raj Batra (Irrfan) owns a large Chandni Chowk boutique selling “original duplicates” of famous designers, and is wealthy enough to live well, which is not enough for his wife Mita (Saba Qamar), who will do anything to belong to the elite (she pronounces it ‘e-light’ which earns her a smirk from the English speaking playground moms) class. The problem is their inability to speak in English.
Mita wants her daughter Pia (Dishita Sehgal) to go to one of the best schools, for which they move to the right neighbourhood, subject themselves to the ridicule of uppity neighbours, obey the diktats of a consultant (brilliantly played by Tilottama Shome), try to tap every connection and fail.
Raj just wants to please his wife, and decides to get his daughter in through the Right To Education (RTE) quota meant for the poor. For this, they have to move to a stinky, rat-infested slum and pretend to be poor. This is where the film’s sharp humour fails, this part about the nobility and aspirations of the poor ring false and are actually patronising.
Their friendly, water-sharing neigbour Shyam Prasad (Deepak Dobriyal) trains Raj in poverty and his wife teaches Mita how to battle the water queue. The child, over whom all the drama is generated, is surprisingly placid, adjusting quite easily to slum life.
A slice of Indian life — any number of parents have suffered the dawn queues for forms and the school interviews — some pithy lines and an absolutely award-worthy performance by Irrfan make Hindi Medium watchable. Just paper over the flaws and stop yourself from looking down on Hindi (or any Indian language) speakers.