Hindi-Medium Soup for the English-Medium Soul

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Hindi-Medium Soup for the English-Medium Soul

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

H

indi Medium is a two-hour-long wake-up call to the privilege of an English-medium education in India. And it is a good one.

Our obsession with English as a country is succinctly summarised by the overprotective mother Mita (Saba Qamar) in a hilarious scene, where she schools her husband into going to unthinkable lengths to ensure their daughter is a student of the top school in the city. Her husband is reluctant but she tells him, “Sarkari school mein jayegi toh kuch nahi seekh payegi. Koi English mein baat karega toh uski ruh kaap jayegi. Fit nahi ho payegi society mein toh lonely aur depressed ho jayegi. Aur agar usne drugs lena shuru kar diya toh?”

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The leap is hilarious but somewhere it still rings true. As a Hindi-medium dad, Raj is petrified enough to blindly follow his wife on the tricky subject of admissions. So he does everything it takes, including exchanging his ancestral house with its smell of kulchas for a swanky apartment in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar. He gives up his identity as a man comfortable in his Hindi-medium skin for the kind of man who vacations with his family in Europe.

Unfortunately for Raj and Mita, changing their residence to increase proximity to the reputed private schools doesn’t help the case of their daughter’s selection at the elite Delhi Grammar School. In their desperation, they decide to take unfair advantage of the “gareeb quota”. What follows is a farcical account of the couple faking poverty in a Bharat Nagar slum.

There is an over-simplification of certain realities: like the interaction between the ameer and the gareeb, the glorifying of government schools that makes for an unconvincing climax.

Through the course of the travails of this endearing family the makers have shrewdly created a pitch perfect satire on the education system in the country, the absurd radius regulations for schools, the quota racket and the nexus of complicity between private school principals who turn a blind eye to the misuse of the RTE Act. Hindi Medium hits almost perfect notes with its realistic and humorous observations about the admission madness that grips Indian parents right from their third trimester; the state of public schools that lie neglected, unable to catch up with private ones; and the universal act of parents foisting their unfulfilled ambitions onto their kids without giving them a chance to choose for themselves. There is so much teaching going on in Hindi Medium, but not an iota of preaching.

What could have been a dire PSA with over-dramatisation of a truly desperate situation and a preachy note about our foolish love for English, is a movie that holds a wicked mirror up to ourselves. All you can do is laugh.

Of course, there are some allowances to be made, as is the case with any Bollywood film that comes with a social message. There is an over-simplification of certain realities: like the interaction between the ameer and the gareeb, the glorifying of government schools that makes for an unconvincing climax. But to pull off a statement on education in India without the emotional “tug at your heartstrings” power of Aamir Khan (Taare Zameen Par) or the universal commerciality of Rajkumar Hirani (3 Idiots), Hindi Medium is brave enough.

For this and for the superlative Irrfan Khan, watch Hindi Medium. After all, there are worse things you can do with your weekend. Like watching Half Girlfriend.

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