The medium is the message
To start with, for the point it's trying to make, and how far it goes with it, this film is more than a bit of a stretch, in the interest of humour, mostly. But within all the exaggerations (some of it unnecessary), frankly, I can’t recall a movie that’s emanated so directly from two recent and important pieces of Indian legislation. Which makes this quite unique, actually.
Firstly the film deals with the 2009 Right To Education Act, which stipulates that 25 per cent of all seats in public and private schools be reserved for the poor, who needn’t pay fees. It was a landmark call. I don’t know how much of that law has been implemented yet.
Two, the film digs into the 2016 Delhi Government ruling that admissions to schools in the national capital be foremost based on your residential address—starting with families whose homes are at 1 km radius from the concerned institution, then 3-6 km, and 6-plus thereafter.
The movie is of course set in Delhi, zooming in on a rich couple obsessed with enrolling their only child into a school that’s ranked No. 1 in ‘Onlook’ magazine (which is obviously Outlook), while the school itself, Delhi Grammar School, sounds like Delhi Public School, but looks more like Modern—both being traditionally the best places to send your kids to in Delhi.
So what exactly is wrong with the couple? Basically whatever is wrong with an inherently judgmental, colonially feudal India where, let alone regular folk, even sociologists have trouble defining, who exactly constitutes the upper class. Is it merely an outcome of the goods and services you can buy/consume? In this country, surely you've noticed, English is a bigger marker for class, than the size or make of your car. The lead characters in this film, owners of a prominent saree shop in the supposedly down-market Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, are what one would term, to use Shekhar Gupta’s expression, ‘HMT’, or Hindi Medium Types.
This film is at some level the reverse of Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish, where the husband is the so-called “vernie”, while the wife, in Delhi street jargon, is a ‘benhenji turned mod’, who’s fairly conversant in English. While their kid should be one confused bloke in the block, I don’t think she has much of a say in matters of her education. She’s too young to react or respond to the desperation of her parents, who’re willing to go to any length, hilariously from being nouveau riche to neo-poor, for their child’s admission.
Irrfan plays the dad, with the same casual swag that’s become so much a part of his onscreen persona that he could have simply phoned in his performance, and we would’ve been floored nonetheless. Saba Qamar, fine Pakistani import, plays his wife, and she’s stunningly natural (please shut your eyes, if you have issues with Pak artistes; yeah, I’m talking to you, troll). Saket Chaudhary, the film’s director, had earlier made Pyaar Ke Side Effects, and its sequel, Shaadi Ke Side Effects. Somewhere in line with both his films, this one is also about negotiating love, marriage, and kids, in urban India.
Except given the seriousness of the subject, he takes the more tried-and-tested Rajkumari Hirani formula of a story that’s part humour, part farce, but keeps you engaged, and nudges you to think. Most of it works. Some of it doesn’t. While being crowd-friendly, the film lapses into simplicities, such as that of seeing only virtue in the poor, while the rich usually comprise pretentious a-holes.
So yeah, to reiterate, as you head towards the end, the stretches turn into slips. But then you don't mind that very much, given that the medium is the message itself. And the picture very passionately makes a point that could well be a polished mirror to the audience before it. I’m glad I caught it.