The film has taken a hit with the coronavirus pandemic, but I managed to see it with a determined sparse audience just before the Mumbai theatre lockdown was announced.
Breezy and genuinely funny (Irrfan Khan and Deepak Dobriyal are irrepressible), this is one of the few films where the story revolves around a young girl’s education and dreams. It has you think back to the brilliant Nil Battey Sannata directed by Ashwini Iyer Tiwari.
Angrezi Medium is less about the educational aspect and more to do with the father-daughter bond. And so, the father is not as ambitious for his daughter, as he is keen to indulge his daughter’s outrageous wish. Owner of a sweet shop in Udaipur, Champak (Irrfan Khan) is a single parent to 17-year-old Tarika (Radhika Madan) who wants to study in London. He is thrilled when her school decides to send her to a prestigious university in the UK, except that he (perhaps driven by a sub-conscious fear) mucks-up the situation for her.
The opportunity lost, and the guilt of discouraging his wife’s dreams weighing heavily on his shoulders, Champak makes a mission out of this university admission. In doing so, as the film shows us, no method is too audacious, no amount is too huge.
If in Hindi Medium, the tone was light and the story touched on class divide and the education system. Here, it’s essentially a touching father-daughter story, and there’s a message somewhere about the superficiality of studying abroad. There’s also the mild preachy tone with the Indian father often disapproving the West’s focus on individual independence, which according to the film, disintegrates families.
In the more sure-footed Nil Battey Sannata, the single parent Chanda (brilliantly performed by Swara Bhaskar) lives with the hope that her daughter studies well and makes something of her life. It shakes her to the core, when the daughter says casually that she doesn’t mind becoming a maid like Chanda. The film focuses beautifully on the tender and often tumultuous relationship between a mother and an impudent teen. Like in Angrezi Medium, here too, the focus is on the girl’s education and the parent’s hope that she achieves her dreams.
There is a difference in Dangal, where a father (Aamir Khan) takes it upon himself to make sure his daughters train hard and make a name for themselves in wrestling. Here it’s more the father’s dream realized through the daughters. In Sultan, however the father who doubles up as the coach, is crestfallen when his wrestler daughter (Anushka Sharma) gives up an opportunity of a lifetime to start a family.
Secret Superstar was all about a teen (Zaira Wasim) aiming for the stars with the support of her mother and a mentor. Fanney Khan, a movie that deserved better, was about a talented singer, with her father (Anil Kapoor) cheerleading her at every step.
More often than not, we must watch films like Ok Jaanu and Love Aaj Kal, where the woman’s dreams are a treated like a movable asset that gets compromised once the boy comes in. Which is why films like Angrezi Medium, despite flaws, are so much more rooted in reality and therefore special.
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2