One of the themes of Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium is the privilege attached to an English medium education. Raj (Irrfan), a wealthy businessman from Delhi, is not fluent in English, while his wife Mita (Saba Qamar) is adamant on enrolling their daughter in a posh school. They go to great and often seriocomic lengths to secure their daughter’s future.
Chaudhary made his big screen debut with Pyaar Ke Side Effects (2006), which he followed up with Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014). He had previously worked in television, spoofing Dhoom (2004) as Ghoom (2006). Hindi Medium is a light-hearted comedy that also addresses anomalies in the Right to Education Act, which has attracted the ire of Bengali filmmakers Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee. They have accused Chaudhary of copying the themes explored in their Bengali hit Ramdhanu (2014). Choudhary spoke to Scroll.in about the plagiarism charges and the reason behind the long gaps between his films.
What is the status of the allegation that ‘Hindi Medium’ is plagiarised from ‘Ramdhanu’?
I think people jumped to conclusions too early. As more and more information about Hindi Medium came out, it became evident that the scope of the film was entirely different. My film is based on original material that my co-writer Zeenat Lakhani and I developed. It was during the research of my previous film Shaadi Ke Side Effects that we stumbled upon an article about a man whose daughter was rejected by a school because he had an arts degree. So he enrolled in an MBA programme to get her through. That struck a chord and triggered the idea.
What were the challenges in writing the script?
Hindi Medium is about a couple wanting to put their daughter into a good English medium school for which they themselves have to score through an interview, so in a way it’s a test that they have to take and pass to get her through.
The first draft was not up to the mark, so we went back to the story. We incorporated the element of the Right to Education Act, according to which both child and parents do not have to sit for an admission interview. That important message had to come through the comedy narrative, and it gave our film a much stronger impact.
Was Irrfan your first choice for the main lead?
Yes, he was the only one I absolutely wanted for the role.
Did you fear that the film could court controversy due to Pakistani actress Saba Qamar’s presence?
When we started finalising the actors, she fit the part because I had seen her work in some Pakistani serials. We approached her without thinking about nationality. It’s only towards the final days of the shoot in 2016 that Pakistani actors were being asked to leave the country. Since ours was a small film, it didn’t affect us. We had shot her portions by then. Some time passed and the noise about banning Pakistani actors died down. So by the time of the release, she wasn’t a prime target.
‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ was criticised for mansplaining – the narrative centred on the hero’s point of view and the woman’s voice was missing. Have you balanced this out in ‘Hindi Medium’?
See, I understand that criticism but I don’t think of it like that. One must understand the perspective when we are writing a script if we want to take a certain approach to a story. Even accepting that I chose to tell a story from a particular person’s point of view is what ultimately should be acknowledged.
Hindi Medium is a totally different set-up. It’s not about a sparring couple, but a family of three and a busy world around them, where everyone is equally important and clearly heard. It is about the privilege of class and position in society and also about this well-to-do couple who have no clue about how the poor survive and how they learn about things beyond their cushioned lives.
Your debut ‘Pyaar Ke Side Effects’ was in 2006 and its follow-up was after an eight-year gap. Does it take so long to move from one film to the next, especially if the first one is a big hit?
I know. The script got delayed and getting an actor on board took time. But since I am financially sound, I can afford to go slow. I am not interested in churning films every year.
You don’t want to be like Woody Allen, who has a film out every year?
I did grow up thinking I want to be a great director like him, but I don’t think I have his talents.
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