It’s a real feat when a film can address serious topics in society and balance it with a sense of well-timed levity. That’s exactly what Bollywood picture Hindi Medium achieves, touching upon issues of social class, education and language in a way that will keep audiences thinking even long after they’ve left the cinema.
The movie centres around married couple Raj (Irrfan Khan) and Mita (Saba Qamar), who own a flourishing fashion store in Old Delhi. To secure what they think will be a golden future for their daughter, Pia (Dishita Sehgal), the affluent couple do everything in their power to get her admitted into one of the most reputed elementary schools in India – one that adopts English as its medium of instruction.
What ensues in the film is, in many aspects, reminiscent of Hong Kong’s culture of helicopter parenting. Raj and Mita move into a posh region near the school, queue up overnight for registration, partake in admission counselling – all in an effort to get Pia into the school of their dreams. Their ambition for their child is such that it even drives them to rig the admissions process – a move that causes a series of repercussions.
Aside from looking at the pressures of today’s education system, the movie also addresses a broader picture of Indian society. Most notably, the contrast between the rich and the poor is distinct and strewn with hilarity. Aside form presenting the sordid reality of the less privileged, the film shows the warmth and heart of the lower class as driving forces behind the two Raj and Mita’s eventual epiphany.
The acting is also superb. Khan, previously seen in Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire, is fantastic as Raj, whose indifference and imperceptibly dead-pan expressions are bolstered by satire and mockery. Meanwhile, Qamar, who makes her Bollywood debut in the film, is highly convincing in her transformation from a ‘monster parent’ to one who allows her child to explore the world on her own will.
With all its merits, though, the film stumbles near the end with its overly sentimental conclusion. In some way, the final resolution serves to clear the parents’ conscience although the status quo remains unchanged. Still, we can’t help but to engage in the main characters’ epiphany: that a child must be allowed to stumble and fall, and that a person’s intelligence should not be judged by their wealth, not the language they speak. These reflections make Hindi Medium an engaging watch and one of the best Bollywood films we’ve seen so far in 2018. Gigi Wong