Angrezi Medium Review: A Conservative Film Made Bearable by Irrfan Khan

Bollywood

Angrezi Medium Review: A Conservative Film Made Bearable by Irrfan Khan

Illustration: Arati Gujar

In an interview, Homi Adajania admitted there would be no Angrezi Medium – the sequel to  Hindi Medium, a spirited satire on the country’s collective fixation with equating an English-medium education with upward class mobility – without Irrfan Khan. It wasn’t an exaggeration. Without Khan, whose last outing was two years ago, there really is no film. But the real trouble with Angrezi Medium is that even with the actor, it is a regressive and garbled mess.

Three years ago, Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium treaded new ground. Despite its last-minute preachiness, Hindi Medium managed to distill a crucial detail through the language of a social satire: that the Indian performance of class superiority is the new status symbol. The film’s premise compellingly and often hilariously, underlined the ever-expanding distance between a middle-class existence and access to quality education.

But unlike Hindi Medium, its sequel sorely lacks a purpose or originality. This is a comedy that feels hastily assembled with contrived sub-plots, crowd-pleasing one-liners, emotional manipulation, and crude caricatures to profit off the opportunity of a franchise. Set in Udaipur, Angrezi Medium trains its lens on a dysfunctional family in the business of sweet-making, led by two warring brothers Gopi Bansal (Deepak Dobriyal) and Champak Bansal (Irrfan Khan). Champak is a widower and an affable single parent to Tarika (an effective Radhika Madan), a sincere high-schooler obsessed with the idea of going abroad. This later manifests in her desire to go to college in London.

Irfan Khan’s comic timing is impeccable and his animated face is as watchable as it was two years ago.

When Champak ends up unknowingly thwarting Tarika’s chances to a foreign education, he takes it upon himself to go to any lengths to realise her dream. It just so happens that the road to getting Tarika admitted to a college in London involves several bizarre obstacles. There’s deportation, identity theft, juvenile humour, casual racism directed toward Pakistanis, Ranvir Shorey’s frightening British accent, and wasted cameos (Pankaj Tripathi, Kareena Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia), all of which outrank each other in being unfeasible to pull off.

Even then, the striking letdown of Angrezi Medium (it is written by Bhavesh Mandalia, Gaurav Shukla, Vinay Chhawall, and Sara Bodinar), is that it is not entirely sure what story it wants to tell. Initially, Angrezi Medium designs itself as an underdog tale where a family’s financial inadequacy becomes the barrier to their dreams. Yet as the film progresses, it becomes evident that Champak is fairly well-off (Tarika has an iPhone and a Macbook, gadgets that are markers of affluence in the country) and the script hardly bothers to treat lack of money as a hindrance, conveniently finding ways to crowdfund it. Its approach to logic is somewhat on similar lines.

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Its dedication to envisioning an Indian father as a parent with equal responsibilities comes in a lovely montage where Champak is shown to be performing duties that are often considered feminine.

Pen India Limited

Instead, what Angrezi Medium is really interested in dissecting is the clash of mentalities – between a selfish younger generation and a selfless older generation. The film alludes to the ungrateful attitude of children toward their parents, the loneliness of parents “abandoned” by children who choose to prioritise themselves, lending the older generation a sympathetic edge.

It’s the kind of Baghban filmmaking that thrives on guilt-tripping instead of dissecting a modern father-daughter relationship. There’s very little novelty to its “It’s all about loving your single parent” politics: The makers endorse an orthodox mentality that insists that parents are a child’s lifetime responsibility by insinuating that kids “use” their parents until they are 18. On more than one occasion, Angrezi Medium is judgemental toward Tarika for wanting to assert her own identity and in its copout of a climax, even furthers the idea that she was in fact, in the wrong. Even worse than a film saying nothing, is a film confidently vomiting outdated morals. Adajania doesn’t come across as either a compelling filmmaker (the comic set-pieces are unbearably theatrical) and the film severely lacks ingenuity.

This feels even more disappointing given that Angrezi Medium hits charming notes in its depiction of the bond shared by Tarika and Champak, straying away from the trope of the “angry father” and mainstreaming the kind of Indian father whose preferred language for his daughter is concern. Its dedication to envisioning an Indian father as a parent with equal responsibilities comes in a lovely montage where Champak is shown to be performing duties that are often considered feminine. He makes tea for Tarika and her study partner, drops her to school, packs her lunchbox, massages her hair, and is emotionally upfront with her – acts of tenderness that are usually missing in Hindi cinema’s depiction of Indian fatherhood.

It’s the kind of Baghban filmmaking that thrives on guilt-tripping instead of dissecting a modern father-daughter relationship.

It is a testament to an actor’s calibre when he makes you almost consider the range of improbable scenarios a film throws at the audience as somewhat believable – Irrfan Khan manages that numerable times in Angrezi Medium. The actor’s comic timing is impeccable and his animated face is as watchable as it was two years ago. His easy chemistry with Madan, Kapoor, and in particular Dobriyal lends the film emotional honesty and his generosity as co-actor enlivens the performances of the entire cast. But what rankles is the vulnerability and quiet sadness that Khan effortlessly brings to the role of a father who wants to do better yet is still struggling to let go of his entitlement. That the actor shot for the film while undergoing treatment for cancer, undeniably influences the experience of warming up to it, although it has always been impossible to not warm up to any Irrfan Khan performance.

As it stands, Angrezi Medium could very well be the actor’s last film for the moment – the makers seem to be aware of that, even capitalising on it, if the film’s affecting closing sequence is any indication. In an industry so fluent in feverishly greenlighting big-budget entertainers to massage the egoes of superstars on the brink of irrelevance, a film dressed as a vanity project for Irrfan Khan might not necessarily be such a bad thing. After all, if there is one Khan in the Hindi film industry who deserves the spotlight, it’s him.

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