The source of drama and conflict at the heart of "Hindi Medium" is one that a sizeable number of Indian parents will likely relate to. It is the single-minded commitment the intense, often corrupt, occasionally comical lengths one will go to in order to ensure a better education for one's children than one was fortunate to receive. In nine of out ten cases, that implies an English medium education at a private school.
The film, directed by Saket Chaudhary, is a satire on the uniquely Indian obsession with English, and the sense of entitlement and higher social standing that is associated with proficiency in the language. But it is as much a comedy about the admission process in Indian schools.
Raj (Irrfan Khan), a wealthy but rough-around-the-edges garment shop owner, is devoted to his wife Meeta (Pakistani actress Saba Qamar). Insistent on admitting Pia, their 4-year-old daughter into a posh English school, Meeta somehow convinces Raj to move out of their Chandni Chowk home and into an upscale neighborhood so as to improve their chances of being picked by the best schools.
The film coasts along nicely in its first hour, maintaining a lighthearted tone. Chaudhary takes gentle jibes at a hypocritical, prejudiced society where, as Meeta puts it, "angrezi zubaan nahin hai balki class hai". Plus, we get interesting characters like the one played by Tilottama Shome, the largely unsympathetic head of a coaching class that prepares both parents and their children for the admission process. There's also Amrita Singh playing the no-nonsense principal of the city's best school, which Meeta has heart set on for Pia.
But the film shifts, and not entirely smoothly, into a different gear from this point on. When it's clear that the only way they might land a seat for Pia at the top school is through the 'poor quota', the couple decides to move to a slum and pose as a financially challenged family. This portion feels farfetched occasionally, and the humor makes way for melodrama and pathos. Deepak Dobriyal is terrific as Raj and Meeta's helpful neighbor in their new quarters, and his kindness to the couple sets in motion the film's final act, which is hinged on another of the film's key themes the deep-rooted corruption prevalent in the school admission system.
It is this final act that is the weakest link in Hindi Medium. By now it's down to over-simplistic stereotyping and a preachy finale that'll make you cringe. Where Chaudhary employed sharp, biting humor to make his point in the early parts of the film, he now whacks you on the head to drive the message home.
Despite its shortcomings, the film is never unwatchable and benefits enormously from a winning performance by Irrfan Khan who makes his every moment on screen count. From his hilarious wooing of a mother-daughter pair of potential customers at his shop in the film's first half to his earnest amends on discovering his conscience late into the final act, he has you eating out of his palm. For Irrfan alone, Hindi Medium may be worth a watch. I'm going with two-and-a-half out of five.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
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