Starting with the first scene of the movie, it introduces us to a young girl with a promise of turning into a feisty woman in the near future. She tries to up the sartorial game by instructing the tailor to stitch up a suit with a deep cut at the back- a seemingly bold choice vis a vis the conservative locality she lives in- i.e. Chandni Chowk. But the tailor’s side kick- the young Irrfan Khan reassures her by promising to design the suit just the way likes. And thus, turns into a hopeless puppy frolicking around the lady.
This, ladies and gentlemen, sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The love lorn guy manages to win over the girl, ups the shoddy tailor shop into a swanky showroom frequented by brides to be, thus becoming the “local tycoon”, in selling rip off’s of latest collections by the top notch designers. While the girl possesses the tendency to dare think outside of the limit, that is, what the lively, homely and jostling for space, recognition and attention Chandni Chowk can afford to provide, Irrfan readily supports her.
She aims at securing a seat for their daughter in one of the elite schools of Delhi. Symbolically in a scene, she mispronounces ‘Eton’, but is comparatively aware of its existence, unlike the clueless and territorial Irrfan. And thus begins the saga of Hindi Medium.
As a student of literature shifting gears to the field of education, this was one movie I was waiting for. Since I spent some fifteen days at a government school for the observation period, I can safely proclaim myself as eligible to comment and critique the movie.
When it comes to the elite schools, we know the drill- well to do ambitious parents, scoffing at Hindi and at everything outside of their esoteric realm reek of supremacy. The lead pair moves to the upscale Vasant Vihar in a bid to ease the process of becoming like “the Other”. But something or the other gives the facade away, making them the centre of ridicule. When offering a bribe or taking lessons from the consultant (who’s booked by parents during “the first trimester” in order to prepare their children for such schools) fails, they grope the vein of RTE( Right to Education). The messy (and at times, funny) turn of events to look and act poor does secure a seat but at the cost of Guilt. Yes, with a G.
The episode where they try and deal with it by donating books, furniture and improving the infrastructure ( Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan coming into the frame with clean toilets and related habits) is particularly interesting. The government school I went to was sorted in some of the arenas but I am aware of how a lot of schools struggle to avail the basic facilities to the students. But the part where the child prattles in perfect English by reading those books was a bit difficult to digest for me. The kids in tenth standard find it difficult to string a few words together, furiously translating/noting the words from English to Hindi in a bid to remember. In that period, I came across just one teacher who was excellently donning the role of a language teacher. The rest just read the lesson, turning the class where the medium of instruction was supposed to be bilingual, into just another Hindi lesson. So, how can assuring good textbooks solve that particular problem? Yes, I agree that there is a huge gap in the demand and supply of textbooks in govt schools, wherein the NCERT books are deemed compulsary. The existing books are of a poor paper quality and the private publishers aren’t allowed to foray into the scene. On top of that, the no detention policy is like the rotten cherry on top.
Nonetheless, coming back to the movie, it was evident they focused on the two ends of the spectrum- the government schools and the elite ones, with no mention of the ones in the middle. Amrita Singh’s character as the seemingly villainous woman is etched well. She is the quintessential principled lady, draped in luscious no nonsense silk sarees. She’s a success story; a product of lower middle class who’s crossed over to the other side by lunging at the opportunity offered to her in the form of education. But she never gets over the ill treatment of her rich counterparts while at school; the scars of which determine her to vie against the boons of the scheme. Irrfan Khan, as always, managed to unnerve me. Deepak Dobriyal and Saba Qamar were brilliant alongside him. The song- Ek Jindari really perked me up, hitting me with a flash of nostalgia. For I started missing my girls at the government school.
Loosely translating the lyrics-
We are standing right here, with a goal of crossing over to your ( read the elites’) side.
Don’t downweigh us.
We are determined. And highly passionate.
One life, a thousand desires,
We’ll fulfill all of these, one by one.
It’ll be difficult( for anyone) to stop us.
And this sets the tone for the ending. Hugely optimistic. But not out of bounds. Right?
I cannot end this blogpost without “personalizing the context”. (Bless CELTA!) I put up in Faridabad, which in the 90’s, boasted of a few schools. And Apeejay School, of which I am a product, was the school every parent made a beeline for. It celebrated its silver jubilee the year I took admission into it. DAV schools stood strong, while DPS was just established. DAV was vetoed because I already saw it as a familiar space, courtesy my mother, and my father never wanted me to start as a teacher’s ward, urging me to carve my own identity elsewhere instead. Apeejay had a good screening procedure with an elite cliental. And every alumni (or Apeejay-ite) vouched for their alma mater’s role in shaping their lives, which made it an obvious choice. Now, of course, a hundred schools have cropped up in my sleepy town. And needless to say, the population has also spiked up. But the quest for getting in the best school seems never ending and prone to turning ugly. And Hindi Medium voices this concern aptly. A must watch if you wish to churn your soul a wee bit!
P.S. My favorite scene was when the family is leaving Chandni Chowk and Irrfan is offered chhole kulche as a parting gift and is promised that his annual role of Jataayu in the locally staged Ramayana won’t be given to anyone else. 😛