Saba Qamar and Irrfan Khan make the most of Hindi Medium's slightly shallow script

While director Saket Chaudhary gets full marks for novelty, he fails to adequately flesh his ideas out
Updated 23 May, 2017

Stand up your hand (literally, haath upar karo), if you have ever been guilty of translating local phrases into angrezi. Hindi Medium explores this idea and the divisiveness of language through a rite of passage for many parents – nursery entrance exams.

Hindi Medium, directed by Saket Chaudhary (Pyar ke Side Effects, Shaadi ke Side Effects) and co-written with Zeenat Lakhani, takes the heavily class-laden issue of education and puts it to the Bollywood test – matlab, it presents a checklist of ideas and manages to tick mark all of them with the ability of teacher making sure her students can answer all the questions in the finals, but any retention of knowledge is strictly optional.

How did Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar fare?

Irrfan Khan takes to his Raj Batra – a self-chartered path from tailor’s assistant to proud owner of a fashion empire specialising in original designer fakes, with the ease and charm of a salesman who knows his audience. There is a lot in his performance we have seen before and come to expect as well, and he doesn’t disappoint. A happy go-lucky guy who managed to charm his to-be wife and now seeks to constantly please her.

Hindi Medium poster
Hindi Medium poster

His wife Mita, played by Saba Qamar who has graced our TV screens with stellar performances most recently in Mein Sitara, Besharam and even on the silver screen in Lahore Se Aagey, makes a strong Bollywood debut. Mita is a determined upwardly mobile Chandni Chowk se Vasant Vihar helicopter (rather, helmet) mom plotting and planning her child Pia’s future. That is, when she isn’t struck by (recurring) paranoid visions of Pia’s life going off track by enrolling her in a government-run Hindi medium school and ending up doing drugs.

Saba Qamar and Irrfan Khan are well-matched and effortless as two parents jumping through many hoops to ensure the best future for their child.

Many Bollywood films love to play with the trope of the elite English classes versus the 'paindu' regional masses. From Amitabh Bachchan’s famous “English is a very funny language” speech to the more recent English-Vinglish, which was a personal journey of self-discovery, and now to Hindi Medium, Bollywood’s legacy with English has a prickly past and is often seen as a key to a better future

Both Qamar and Khan are well-matched and effortless as two parents jumping through many hoops to ensure the best future for their child. Many scenes such as lining up in long queues for admission forms at ungodly hours, the wringing interviews that parents go through to secure a seat for their child and finally making the leap and ‘pretending to be poor’ make for a lot of laughable situations and the film for the most part plays to the gallery rather faithfully.

Also read: "A sheer delight onscreen" — Bolly critics review Saba Qamar's debut in Hindi Medium

Does Hindi Medium's script falter?

The story however, falls into easy dichotomies – the rich mojito-drinking Vasant Vihar snooty types laugh at you while the poor Bharat Nagar slum dwellers laugh with you.

Some scenes also go on for too long and could have benefited from a sharper editing eye.

Hindi Medium presents a checklist of ideas about India's education system and manages to tick mark all of them with the ability of teacher making sure her students can answer all the questions in the finals, but any retention of knowledge is strictly optional.

The premise of Raj and Mita’s relationship is played up in cute moments that triumph or really, gloss over their obvious class differences could have been explored a tad more instead of having Mita merely roll her eyes at everything Raj did. Raj and Mita also seem a largely entitled self-centered couple totally missing a moral compass and their explanation of 'I did it for my child' holds little water.

The mention of India’s Right to Education Act, which aims to provide opportunities for India’s poor to avail education facilities alongside the rich, is examined with some nuance about how these poor children don’t quite fit in. A comparison with the government school and its very basic needs is contrasted with extra-curricular expectations of their richer counterparts. Still, this checks off the ‘issues’ that need to be highlighted but feels like a virtual checklist rather than any meaningful exploration.

A shining supporting cast

Though Khan gets the more meatier lines in the story as well as final ‘Aha’ moment, the person who steals the show is Shyam Prasad played by character actor Deepak Dobriyal. His naturalistic performance, body language, clothing, persona and certified Delhi speech breathes relatability and grace rarely afforded to ‘side’ characters.

Hindi Medium is essentially a reminder to value our origins
Hindi Medium is essentially a reminder to value our origins

He and his wife (Swati Das) serve as a guide to Raj and Mita in the ways of the noveau poor that hits satirical territory and for once, you can’t guess his character’s motivations even if he exists merely as a foil to awaken Raj’s morality.

Raj and Mita also seem a largely entitled self-centered couple totally missing a moral compass and their explanation of I did it for my child, holds little water.

Overall, Hindi Medium is a pleasant watchable film with fun cameos by Mallika Dua, Neha Dhupia, Sanjay Suri, Tilottama Shome and a razor-sharp Amrita Singh that spotlights the business of education.

Within the spectrum of the romanticised poor people, snobbish rich people and the self-absorbed middle class, Hindi Medium seeks to educate us on the value of being proud of where we come from with a jolt of awakening our social consciousness.

While Hindi Medium gets full marks for presenting a new idea, as well as for stellar performances it is chock-a-block full of ideas that aren’t fleshed out. Just as Raj’s speech got no standing ovation, Hindi Medium could have benefitted from its own adage of less is more.


BNJ May 22, 2017 11:36am
No actor can uplift a shallow script. It is only the director which can uplift it. He is the one who knows what he is making. Actors are mere puppets.
raj kumar May 22, 2017 11:53am
Seen this film yesterday,could not stop laughing in most parts.I don't know about critique angles and all but loved watching the movie.Full paisa vasul. Irfan and Saba have done a fantastic job and so has Deepak.
dipak singham May 22, 2017 12:06pm
Tenu suit suit karda..... Song steal the show.
Iftikhar dhingra May 22, 2017 12:14pm
While I appreciate kind and prely professioal comments fo Saba Qamar and her lead Irfan Khan, the comments Seem to have gone too deep in analysing the movie. This is movie, not a lireray compisition whic could too far putting every thought to the reader. Too many ifs and buts. Good review all the same. I am happy fo SabaQamar for her non-glamourised perfomance. She is my crudh for her performance. She belongs to me, my country woman. A star in evrry sense. My regds to the movie team Hinfu medium, a class-divider issue. Love to Saba And Irfan. He is an effirtless performer.
bhoy indian May 22, 2017 01:01pm
Having watched the film I can say its a good film. Story is a bit draggy in the second half but overall its good. As usual Irrfan has done amazing work. One of the best actors we have in India right now. The supporting cast is brilliant. Saba Qamar probably did even better than Fawad Khan. She's the best Pak actor to make a debut in Bollywood & I think Indian producers will want to work with her again. Maybe you guys need to stop hyping up Mahira Khan so much. She's not that great.
Mustafa May 22, 2017 01:56pm
Average movie, but unlikely that a bollywood movie with a Pakistani actress will be watched in India in present times. Good luck.
Sa May 22, 2017 02:35pm
watched this movie yesterday and i have to say i laughed ALOT after ages!! i had tears in my eyes from all the laughing. The article doesn't do jusitice to the movie.. its a great watch and this is coming from someone who rarely watches Bollywood movies!
Sanjeev May 22, 2017 02:47pm
@Mustafa it is being watched.
Chiragdin May 22, 2017 02:48pm
@Mustafa chill maan, a good film is good film. Its an indian film, cast is just supplementry
Pramod Joshi May 22, 2017 02:48pm
@Mustafa I presume you are not an Indian & know a very little about India.
ukasha rajpoot May 22, 2017 03:18pm
Screen is a complicated but virtually the best mode for performing arts. Irfan and Saba did a good job. good movie, good movie, good movie
Anurag Gautam May 22, 2017 04:26pm
Saba Qamar i am your new fan,like the most your dialog that nursery baby will start taking drugs,full paisa vasool movie,after a long time I have laughed so much seeing a movie. Looking forward for your more new films.
Ahsan May 22, 2017 05:32pm
Watched this in Australia last night, specifically for Saba Qamar. I'm a huge fan. She's obviously very attractive, but supremely talented as well. Both Qamar and Khan were wonderful. Dobriyal was a standout. The film's premise was interesting and generally well executed, although it did run out of steam about 65% of the way and was farcical in the end. Still a good film when compared to rubbish like Bahubali, Sarkar, and Half Girlfriend to name a few contemporaries.
udtapak May 22, 2017 08:15pm
Saba Qamar is a way better actress than Mahira Khan, thats for sure.
desi dimag May 22, 2017 08:15pm
@bhoy indian Agree, she is more talented than Mahira.
san(india) May 22, 2017 08:31pm
I watched the movie on Saturday in nearby PVR.It was houseful show at 10.30 PM .Beautiful movie indeed. .Acting of Irfan and Saba was excellent. Kudos to the director as well.
peterpan May 22, 2017 09:50pm
great movie, really enjoyed it! people shouldn't compare saba with mahira. both are good in their own right.
NKhan May 22, 2017 10:47pm
@desi dimag Saba Qamar is a better actress than Mahira Khan and she has chosen a better Bollywood debut than Mahira where she is the hero's equal rather than an accessory. However to be fair to Mahira how can any actress say no to a SRK film? The other issue is that Mahira has been very selective in her projects in Pakistan and got lucky with Humsafar. Saba Qamar has appeared in some very good dramas like Mein Sitara but she has also appeared in a lot of bad ones. Again this may be due to the different economic situations of the actresses, maybe Mahira can afford to work on a small number of projects. With all these factors to consider its unfair to compare them both, although my preference is Saba Qamar.
k k tiwari May 22, 2017 11:21pm
Saba is my most favorite even above all Indian actresses . I saw all serials on Zindagi channels . Sry now that channel has stopped Pakistani serials & airing turkish serials which i can not consume. Saba is best of all Pakistani actresses I saw in Bollywood , Best of luck my dear Saba , Hope to see u more & more . Lahore se aage ab Mumbai
k k tiwari May 22, 2017 11:30pm
whatever so. Saba is my favorite, today & always
Prateek May 23, 2017 12:37am
5He movie isn't only watchable, but worth seeing twice. Reminds us of Rishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chaterjee who were master of light hearted comedy with a message sans any dhishum dhishum. Saba could well become a household name in India- a perfect cultural ambassador f4om Pakistan who Indians would like to see often I Bollywood films.. Overall, 4/5 any day.
Atif May 23, 2017 02:17am
@Bhoy Indian. With all repect. It is your view that Saba is better than Mahira or even Fawad, all are good actors. Fawad is actually much better. Anyways, Pak actors have no place in India (unless they become hindu offcourse). After uri we got a very good x-ray report of Indian society. Indeed, there are good people live in India but they are weak, very weak.
k k tiwari May 23, 2017 03:23pm
@peterpan Saba is more & more all the above
k k tiwari May 23, 2017 03:27pm
@Mustafa Watch the ratings & how much we are watching Saba in this movie . it is much successful beyond imagination, Houses are full ,
vegito May 25, 2017 02:11am
@bhoy indian Believe me when I say that a good number of Pakistanis would love a stop to all the Mahira hype and her being forced down our throats every minute. Though, I think the recent criticism that is surfacing will put a stop to this :)
sudhir khosla May 25, 2017 06:52pm
@raj kumar reviews appear very biased. Movie is a delight and it should play in more theaters. Saba and Irrfan and Deepak acted brilliantly. I cannot believe that stupid movies like Half Girlfreind and badrinath ki dulhania get better reviews....not fair. Let's rise above politics and provide fair reviews. I say a must for all to se ethis fantastic movie which will lighten your day, put a smile on your face and make you fans of Irrfan and Saba. GO WATCH!
skumar May 26, 2017 01:47pm
i saw the film in south -coimbatore ( theatre was houseful ! in a week day) - and it is pura paisa vasool- i would say . Both Irfan and saba were a delight to watch . Saba had a meaty role and did full justice . Expect her to do well in future . Nice film ..