Homi Adajania’s Angrezi Medium, a sequel to Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium, starts off promisingly. In Rajasthan’s Udaipur, sweet-shop owner Champak Bansal (Irrfan), is a single parent, raising his daughter, Tarika (Radhika Madan), who’s at the cusp of turning 18. The two share an endearing, harmonious relationship that carries an emotional authenticity which Adajania establishes with great economy: within the film’s first 20 minutes or so.
Tarika is besotted with the thought of going abroad, a dream she’s harboured since she was a little girl. She’s an average student but through sheer determination, aces her finals which earn her a scholarship in a prestigious London university. However, her father, who’s embroiled in a legal battle with his brother over the name of the sweet shop - Ghaseetaram - unintentionally jeopardises that opportunity which means that if Tarika has to go abroad, it’d be at the family’s expense and not a school scholarship.
This is the film’s crux: small-town father vows to fulfil her daughter’s dream of graduating from a foreign university.
The depiction of the father-daughter bond, till the first half, is perhaps the only authentic part of Angrezi Medium, a film that progressively forgets the story it started out to tell and gets caught up in contrived sub-plots that are exhausting to bear and at times, cringeworthy to watch (Pankaj Tripathi is particularly wasted). Champak’s rivalry with his brother, played by an unfailingly delightful Deepak Dobriyal is entertaining at first but ultimately, gets repetitive and betrays its own arc: their rivalry is caused and solved with the kind of ease that you see in that viral Ambuja cement ad. It’s written solely for laughs, with no real thought on the coherence of the emotions of character.
As the action moves from Udaipur to London, a lot of highly unfathomable and poorly crafted sequences unfold: both Irrfan and Dobriyal’s characters get held up by British airport security and are eventually deported. Then they sneak back with an even more bizarre way, get confronted by a cop and yet are able to infiltrate the British capital posing as Pakistani citizens. Wait, what?
Once in London, Adajania and the film’s four writers - Bhavesh Mandalia, Gaurav Shukla, Vinay Chhawall, Sara Bodinar - lose complete hold of the screenplay, inventing complicated sub-plots that involve a bitter, single mother (Dimple Kapadia), a shady Indian dealer (Ranveer Shorey) and a cop who’s in a permanent state of angst (Kareena Kapoor Khan).
From a film that one thought would explore an evolving father-daughter bond and how the quest for youthful rebellion comes at the cost of losing emotional intimacy with parents, Angrezi Medium turns into farcical melodrama, with car-chases and fake agents and a deeply regressive climactic resolution that completely upends and dismantle the film’s libertarian idea.
Just like how Adajania’s Cocktail masked a sexist worldview underneath its glitzy wrapping paper, Angrezi Medium pretends to be woke and sells the idea of a forward-thinking Dad helping his daughter achieve her dreams but it’s actually the opposite: this movie is about the Dad fulfilling his own dreams for her which he achieves by guilt-tripping his daughter into submission. That submission, an all-too familiar feeling for Indian students, is here passed off as free-will, a deceptive, manipulative technique. It’s a pity because the screenplay offered a quietly redemptive arc for an earlier mistake committed by Irrfan’s character. It’d have neatly tied the film’s loose ends and even given him room to reflect and atone while still sticking to the film’s overarching idea.
However, Angrezi Medium slips into borderline Baagban-territory (the horror!) with some terrifyingly subliminal Make-in-India undertones. While it’d have been immensely interesting to see the makers reject the white validation that its protagonist - Tarika - seeks (it’s established that she wants to go to a ‘foreign’ country more for the romanticised idea than any academic curiosity), that’s not an idea fully explored here. What is explored and legitimised is parental manipulation, patriarchal hangups and like Cocktail, the rebellious-girl-turned-adarsh-baalika character device.
It’s disappointing to see a promising film slip away due to its fanatical commitment to conservatism and an unexplained desire to reaffirm the very status quo it sought out to challenge. Make no mistake: there’s nothing wrong in traveling the world and realising that your roots are awesome, it’s the way in which you reach there that defines the experience. In Adajania’s world, its through laboured creative choices.
Despite these major failings, it’s simply delightful to see Irrfan, who continues to battle a critical illness, on screen. The actor looks like he has missed the camera as much as we’ve ached to see him perform for it and exploits this opportunity to the hilt, turning in a classic, Irrfan-isque performance. Whether it’s his haunting vulnerability or the air of self-assurance he’s so good in conjuring, Irrfan rules, aided by a terrific, terrific Deepak Dobriyal.
The two almost make you forgive this muddled mess of a movie which had ample scope for, well, not being a muddle mess. Radhika Madan has a striking presence but is still fairly rough on the edges. With her, it still feels she’s dropping lines, instead of actually saying them.
Anil Mehta has an eye of a magician. The celebrated cinematographer illuminates Udaipur magnificently, making the city of lakes appear like one of the gorgeous Mediterranean coastal towns. It’s a clever storytelling device, which ties up with the eventual ‘message’ of the film that India is no less than ‘foreign.’
Now only if that felt organically true and not because a hoarding by the present government was screeching the message out loud.