Angrezi Medium review: Irrfan Khan’s film struggles to find its heart
Committed actors make the most of a funny yet unremarkable spin-off
In sultry Udaipur, descendants have gathered to settle a long-drawn dispute. The great-grandsons of Ghasiteram Halwai, a famous confectioner from British times, are fighting over their family trademark. As the judge looks on, the argument veers to daaru (drink) and chakna (snacks). Someone brings up Kesar Kasturi, a local whiskey, and the invariable acidity it causes. Amid the chaos, if you aren’t too distracted to notice, you’ll find Tarika (Radhika Madan). Glasses and headphones on, she’s scribbling diligently into a notebook, seated beside her father on a courtroom bench. As her family squabbles on about the past, she’s briskly prepping for the future.
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Radhika Madan, Kareena Kapoor Khan
Director: Homi Adajania
Producer: Dinesh Vijan
Homi Adajania’s Angrezi Medium looks at kinship and ambition, dreams, and disappointments. In many respects, it’s very much a sequel, tweaking the premise of Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium (2017) and broadening its scale to Rajasthan and London. Regular faces return: in addition to Irrfan Khan, there’s Deepak Dobriyal on comic charge and Tillotama Shome as the education consultant. The newness, if any, is tucked elsewhere, in the father-daughter relationship at the core of this chewy and familiar tale.
When Tarika, despite her best efforts, loses her ticket to a foreign university, she blames her father Champak (Irrfan). He responds by selling his land to amass the admission fee, though there are bigger hoops to leap. Brexit has clogged student entries into the UK — unless there’s citizenship involved. Champak — along with Tarika and his steadfast cousin (Deepak) — arrives in the Big Smoke, but is interrogated at the airport. While Tarika somehow makes it out, her bumbling guardians are deported.
So much happens till the halfway mark. The initial stretch, set entirely in Udaipur, is funny but unremarkable. The film builds itself into a loop, swinging back and forth. The themes of class and status anxiety that drove the 2017 film are blankly discarded. Champak, unlike the parents in Hindi Medium, isn’t moved by personal aspiration — he’d rather Tarika stay with him than fly off to a foreign land. His conflict, instead, is inward: he was once responsible for curtailing her mother’s dreams, and won’t let his daughter miss out on her goals, even if he does not understand them himself.
It’s a minimal, workable setup, but the film contradicts itself. Tarika’s desire to study abroad is ascribed to teenage wish fulfillment. There’s no effort to understand what compels thousands of students to emigrate out of India, or the stark disparities across our education systems. When she moves into a London apartment, makes new friends, and takes up a part-time job, the gaze is blithely oblivious: young kids rebelling for ‘freedom’ instead of slogging in a brutally expensive city. Rather, the writers goof around with Champak and his aide, as they forge their way into the UK and come under the scanner of officer Naina Kohli (Kareena Kapoor Khan).
The emotional negotiations in Angrezi Medium are unfair. The film peddles dated tropes about helpless parents and their cold, self-centered kids. Dimple Kapadia plays Naina’s widowed mother (her ruined birthday scene is a weird callback to Dil Chahta Hai). It gets profusely manipulative, and there’s a disappointing dream sequence one wouldn’t expect from Homi, a director known for treating female characters with care. Still, the actors stay suitably committed, with Irrfan and Radhika making an especially bracing team.
“Knock karke aana tha naa (Should’ve knocked before entering),” Tarika rebukes her dad in one scene. As Champak fumbles for a comeback, he’s filled with genuine embarrassment and regret, swiftly closing the door behind him. There’s a lot of judgment in Angrezi Medium, but none in Irrfan’s performance.
As franchise releases go, this one delivers on brand. The plot is scattered but rarely out of breath. After several memorable but limited roles, the entire bandwidth of Deepak Dobriyal is there for people to see. Even in seemingly serious scenes, he snags a laugh or two. Kareena looks lost in her solo Hot Fuzz act, and this is clearly a setup for future films. Whether those films will retain the flavor and crust of Hindi Medium is a different question. “First original,” Champak calls his mithai shop. Nothing gives away a faker than a name like that.