Director: Homi Adajania
Cast: Irrfan, Radhika Madan, Kareena Kapoor
Angrezi Medium is the second film in a series built around education. The first, Hindi Medium, was about the struggle to get a child into an elite English medium school. Angrezi Medium is about the struggle to send a child to a prestigious college abroad. Watching the film, I wondered if this was the world’s first franchise based on such a specific anxiety. If it is, then it’s fitting that it’s homegrown. For Indians, a child’s education is an all-consuming priority. As a parent, I can assure you that these films tap into our most primal fears. We’ve all had panic attacks that life will be over if our child doesn’t get into X or Y institution. We’ve all felt the desperation that Champak feels in this film.
Champak is the proud owner of Ghasitaram Misthan Bhandar in Udaipur. He is also a doting single parent. He says he was confused about whether to be a mother or father to his daughter Tarika and naturally, ended up being both. Champak folds her clothes, braids her hair, presses her head while she studies for her exams. Since she was a little girl, Tarika has dreamt of travelling abroad and has her heart set on a college in the UK. Angrezi Medium is the story of how far Champak will go to get her there.
Angrezi Medium goes further, becoming farcical in places. Unlike the first film, this one feels untethered in any known reality, which undermines the impact
Honestly, it’s a pretty convoluted story. It includes court cases, cops, criminals, fake passports, a large bag of cash. Which once again proves my pet theory that multiple writers equal messy script. Angrezi Medium has four – Bhavesh Mandalia, Gaurav Shukla, Vinay Chhawall and Sara Bodinar – which is perhaps why the narrative is so choppy. The London portion feels even more disjointed, especially the scenes which establish how dazzled Tarika is by her new environment. Suddenly, she’s doing shots, wearing low-cut dresses and ignoring dad.
Director Homi Adajania has always had a talent for tapping into the absurdity of human nature – remember Being Cyrusand Finding Fanny? He stages bizarre situations with skill – there’s a lovely father-daughter reconciliation scene in the middle of a car chase. The plot of Angrezi Medium is outlandish by design but it isn’t stitched together well enough to feel organic. Anything is possible. One minute, Champak and cousin Gopi are at the airport, being strip-searched by cops. Some scenes later, they are dressed in ridiculously plush clothes, attending an auction at the coveted college. Of course Hindi Medium wasn’t trying for realism either – rich parents pretending to be poor and sleeping in a rat-infested home was a little far-fetched. But Angrezi Medium goes further, becoming farcical in places. Unlike the first film, this one feels untethered in any known reality, which undermines the impact.
And yet, even when the writing gets sloppy and tedious, the emotions feel authentic because the actors in the frame are so damn good. There’s one sequence with Irrfan, Deepak Dobriyal and Pankaj Tripathi. It makes little sense but there is such pleasure in watching these three actors riffing off each other. Same with Dimple Kapadia and Kareena Kapoor Khan. Both combine beauty with a stony edge. They get one scene to shine but they do it with aplomb, both playing characters who are bitter and simmering in unresolved hurt. Radhika Madan captures the unforced innocence of a 17-year-old, desperate to get out of her small town and see the world. She’s an absolute natural. I hope we see more of her and of Deepak Dobriyal, who has terrific timing.
But the heart of this film and this franchise is Irrfan, who renders with singular elegance, the lunatic love and the ache that a parent feels. There is nothing actor-ly or overbearing about him. There is no sense of strain. He is Champak – hapless, perennially confused, fiercely protective of his daughter but also fiercely proud of her flight. There is such sweetness in his fumbling attempt to do the best for her. Really, that’s all any parent can do.
I found myself teary at the end of Angrezi Medium. I was moved by Champak’s emotions. I was also moved by Irrfan, his strength and his resilience against the deadly disease he is currently battling – in an audio clip promoting the film, he called it an “unwanted mehman.”