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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Angrezi Medium, Review: Crazy Tedium

Angrezi Medium, Review: Crazy Tedium

Three years ago, Maddock Films gave us a slice-of-life entertainer called Hindi Medium. ‘Medium’ here referred to the language, the medium of instruction in school education. It was just passably humorous yet proved more popular than expected, garnering a few awards as well. A follow-up went into development soon afterwards, repeating its lead actor Irrfan Khan. Though still to recover completely, Irrfan is back in Maddock’s Angrezi (English) Medium, a king-sized kitsch that ranks well below the ‘medium’ mark.

Champak Todarmal Bansal is a confused person, and was always confused, even as a child. His confusion was related largely to situations that caught him in a dilemma, offering options A or B, and he could never make a decision. This story is about some of his major ‘confusions’. It begins with him as a young boy and moves on to present day, informing us that he and his cousins and other relatives are fighting over the trade-mark ‘Ghasetaram’. They live in Udaipur, Rajasthan, where there are hundreds of sweat-meat (Indian traditional candy, called mithai) shops, all claiming to be direct descendants of one Ghasetaram, the legendary shop-keeper, who lived a hundred years ago. They use all possible tricks in the book to sabotage each other’s business, by luring clientèle and snatching each other’s orders. The main rivalry is between Champak and his cousin Gopi, who even attack each other physically at the slightest provocation. End of Chapter I.

Chapter II is about Champak and his daughter Tarika, ‘Taru’. His wife died when Taru was a baby, and in spite of being stumped by the quandary whether he should be her father or mother or both, he raises her with abundant love. She always wanted to see the world, and takes up science as her stream when she finishes school and joins college. When it is announced that the students who rank among the first three will be sent to Truford, a top London University, she sees the chance of her lifetime. However, there are two major hitches: she’s a mediocre student and her father is dead against allowing his darling daughter to leave him and go far away, for a full three years. Being truly determined to go to Truford, she makes him promise that if she scores the requisite marks, he will make arrangements for her travel and stay. Confident that she will never make the cut, he agrees.

Out of four writers, it is likely that both chapters were written by the same person(s). Then, it will be guess-work, for the film sort of ends at the end of chapter II, and the kitsch sets in thereafter, which could be hotchpotch hybrid, churned out by any/all of Bhavesh Mandalia, Gaurav Shukla, Vinay Chhawal and Sara Bodinar, probably folks other than those who created the initial chapters. Mandalia wrote OMG: Oh My God and Bey Yaar (Gujarati). Shukla is a comedian and TV/web writer, who makes his film-writing debut with Angrezi medium. Dr. Vinay Chhawal is a freelance scriptwriter and a creative director who also makes his debut in the feature film domain. Bodinar studied at the University of Nottingham and has a penchant for comedy. Angrezi Medium is not a sequel to Hindi Medium, though it addresses, in major part, the Indian education system, and the belief that a foreign degree is worth more than a local graduation, on your resumé.

While retaining the admission slant, the writers have thrust upon it several other side-tracks, like corruption in the judiciary, immigration and drug-peddling, and the plight of ethnic Indian families, settled in the UK. As the sub-plots gain preminence, so does the ludicrous bent behaviour of the protagonists: Champak, Gopi, Judge Chheda, Principal Mrs. Chheda, Gajju, Balkrishan ‘Balloo’ Tripathi, Tony, Mrs. Kohli, Naina Kohli and more.

Judge Chheda delivers a judgement upholding Gopi’s claim to the Ghasetaram trade-mark, Mrs. Chheda breaks the good news of Taru’s selection to her Dad, Gajju arranges for the travel of Champak and Gopi to London on business visas, Balloo is the NRI who comes to India to arrange for the fictitious business investment that will get Champak a Permanent Resident status in the UK, Tony is the Dubai-based forger who arranges for the return of Champak and Gopi to London on Pakistani passports after they are nabbed at London airport and reported, Mrs. Kohli is an Indian business-woman who takes a liking to Taru, her father and her uncle, and Naina is her police-officer daughter who hates the duo for their alleged criminal activities.

After some laudable work in Being Cyrus, Cocktail and Finding Fanny, director Homi Adajania seems to have lost his touch. Savour this: bent upon improving her marks tally, Taru literally dumps her books on the table in front of Omkar, the top-notcher, and demands that he coach her, to which he acquiesces with only a whimper. Then there is a scene where a totally corrupt and heavy-drinking Champak is asked to make a speech at his daughter’s school, being the parent of the girl who is none of the three nominated to study in London. He speaks, in broken English, and then noticing that the previous speaker, the harping on honesty Chief Guest, is the same judge who was given a Rolex watch by his cousin Gopi as bribe, exposes him in front of the huge gathering. It is after this scene that proceedings begin to waver and our interest begins to wane. Chheda’s wife is the principal of the school, and by insulting him, Champak has sealed his daughter’s fate, as she bemoans to her Papa. So, he goes to the Principal’s house at night, to make amends.

The Chheda abode is a bungalow, and when she does not open the door, the two have a conversation much like the Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet conversation, with Juliet at the balcony. She asks him to speak from where he is, though this means having to shout, and gathering a crowd, in the bargain. He begs forgiveness and asks her not to cancel his daughter’s admission to Truford. She goes inside, comes out with some paper and tears it to bits, before throwing it down. High drama? Only, which principal would keep a student’s admission papers at home? And which corrupt judge’s wife would want her husband’s nemesis to yell at her from below her house, thereby creating a totally avoidable scene?

Champak does speak a smattering of English and deals with foreign tourists at his mithai shop, but does not know the common word ‘medicines’ and translates it from Hindi as ‘drugs’, going on ad nauseam ad infinitum about what the immigration police construe as narcotics, not medicines. This leads to a thorough baggage and body search, including rectal examinations, followed by lifetime bans on entry into the United Kingdom. Silly!

Both daughter and father seem to be completely unaware of life in a foreign land. Champak even ventures so far as to ask Tony whether it is possible to go to London from Dubai via a land route, though he and Gopi obviously flew from Udaipur to Dubai. Tony’s effeminate demeanour may have been a manifestation of his gay orientation, which need not be a cause for humour in itself. Mercifully, he underplays it. The passport and travel options he offers to Champak and Gopi are infantile. Should we then laugh at his stupidity as a master forger and immigration fraudster? Or should we wonder about the writers’ hare-brained delineation?

A middle-class shop-keeper by all appearances, Champak has tons of money to splurge on his daughter’s admission, including offering a wad of notes to the bankrupt crook, Balloo, and it is only mentioned in passing that he had some property that might have been sold to meet the contingency. The entire track involving Balloo, from his arrival at the airport, to his playing gully cricket, to his lot in London, reeks of insensitivity and puerile attempts at digging out laughs. His apparently loving daughter, who had no previous exposure to western civilisation, gets completely swayed by London life-style before you can say Boris Johnson, and is ready to wear revealing clothes and kiss a white boy-friend on her first date.

Mrs. Kohli and her daughter have a problematic relationship, where the problem remains vague till the end. It seems to be about Naina’s desire to live alone, separately, surely not enough to lead to an all-out confrontation on the eve of the mother’s birthday. No wonder Champak and Gopi find Mrs. Kohli lying on the floor, conked out, the next morning, after she had collapsed as a result of shooting blood pressure. You could see it coming when the two ring the doorbell, and there is no response. An Indian boy, who receives an SOS from a distraught Taru, arrives at the airport in a fast car, with a Chinese-looking friend, and plays a practical joke on her, by saying that she should get into the car quick, with her luggage, as if he was a robber or a kidnapper. Deservingly, Taru lands a punch on the Chinky-eyed bloke’s nose, who turns out to be Korean (laugh please), not Chinese.

Not many would have been able to carry the role of Champak with the ease and grace that Irrfan does. He looks considerably younger than his years, and finds little difficulty in mouthing the Rajasthani dialect, being a Jaipurite himself. Situations and dialogue, however, get the better of him, and he gives in. Radhika Madan (Pataakha, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota), 24, as Taru, gets to play a much younger girl and has a cuddly persona, coupled with a characteristic diction and small town mannerisms. It is method acting in play, which, unfortunately, does not help when she is playing the bad girl. Deepak Dobriyal is loud and in character as Gopi, matching Irrfan in unbridled enmity, when it comes to business, but undying love, when it comes to his niece’s dreams. Kareena Kapoor has a small, ill-defined role as Naina, the same being true of Dimple Kapadia as Mrs. Kohli. Ranvir Shorey is a caricature as Balloo, same goes for Pankaj Tripathi as Tony. Kiku Sharda makes most of a meaty role. Zakir Hussain is ill-at-ease as Judge Chheda (the entire court-room scene is painfully unfunny), while playing Principal Mrs. Chheda is Meghna Malik, of TV fame, a good job. The actor playing the son of an Indian politician in London impresses, with his effortless accented English, and clear, unaccented Hindi.

At 145 minutes, Angrezi Medium is crezi tedium.

Rating: **



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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