Delhi could very well be Lahore or Karachi; I mean, which urban parent hasn’t tried or thought of getting their child admitted to a Grammar School. Grammar Schools are where parents’ dream rise and for too many, rise to die when they don’t get in. This is precisely why Hindi Medium makes so much sense, even this side of the border. It’s a film without any sansani, without any over the top songs or item numbers; it doesn’t rely on action sequences or exotic locales for attention. And by hinging completely on the issue at hand, it allows the issue to remain focal point. Our obsession with private schooling, the ‘grammar school’ syndrome and the class divide that we’re all held hostage to plays the pivot in this narrative.
That’s the film in a nutshell and by now you must have heard or read every possible review on it. My bigger point of interest, of course, is not the film but the film’s female lead – Saba Qamar – who impressively holds her own against the hugely talented Irrfan Khan. There’s no denying that Saba is an immensely talented actor however (and unfortunately) not even she could dodge the curse of being miscast in a substandard film. Case in point: her debut as lead in Lahore Se Aagey did her no credit at all. She made more of an impression as Madam Nur Jehan in Manto or the countless drama serials that she has acted in. Hindi Medium, however, allows her to shine in the character of Mittu, a boisterous Chandni Chowk begum who’s married to a ‘fashion’ merchant who sells ‘original copies’ and together they obsess over their daughter’s admission to a top notch English Medium school.
There are reasons why Saba works in a role in which many young and ambitious actresses would have failed. Saba channels the character to perfection as she has no qualms in dropping any semblance of glamour or gorgeousness that heroines usually hold on to. She adapts herself to the role and smothers herself with labels when she wants to impress her hi-fi neighbours and then loses every iota of makeup for her her stint as a ghareeb when they decide to apply in the ghareeb quota. Saba, like any good actor, puts her character before herself and that’s why she’s so good. There is no self-consciousness and no inhibition where Mittu is concerned.
This is a dream debut for any actress, let alone any Pakistani actress in Bollywood. While Saba may not have gotten a film with one of the mighty Khans, she got the reviews and response that she must only have dreamt of. She got the role that dream debuts are made of; equal screen time with Irrfan Khan and a role that had just as much relevance in the script. Had things been sweet between the two countries, I can guarantee that Saba would have been the second actor from Pakistan (after Fawad Khan) to win a Film Fare Award for Best Debut in India. But for now she’ll have to make do with the praises and verbal accolades.