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Angrezi Medium

Rating: 3

March 13, 2020

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Radhika Madan, Deepak Dobriyal, Kareena Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Kiku Sharda, Ranvir Shorey

Director: Homi Adajania

Angrezi Medium opens with a slate that defines a parent as “a strange creature with the profound ability to love its offspring irrationally”. It’s a fitting description, as pretty much anyone who’s raised a child will tell you, and an especially accurate one in the case of this film’s protagonist.

Irrfan Khan plays a sweet-shop owner in Udaipur named Champak Bansal, a single parent committed to raising his only daughter Tarika (Radhika Madan). Theirs is an affectionate, endearing relationship; the scenes between the two actors are charming and feel authentic. Tarika, who is just shy of 18, has wanted to go abroad since she was little, but Champak has somehow always managed to put it off. When she works hard to land a scholarship to a top London university, he finally relents. But he also unintentionally causes her scholarship to be revoked. Consumed by guilt over potentially shattering his daughter’s dream Champak vows to send Tarika to university, although he can ill afford the cost of a seat.

As many as four writers are credited with developing the story, and yet the script of Angrezi Medium is largely a mess of meandering subplots and contrived conflicts. Directed by Homi Adajania, the film’s first hour is especially a slog. Champak and his brother Gopi (Deepak Dobriyal), who runs a rival sweet-shop across from his, are at loggerheads over the rightful use of the family name for their respective businesses. Their acrimony spills into a legal battle that has little bearing on the film’s main plot, and hence feels needless and distracting even if it is played out strictly for laughs.

The incident that leads to the film’s pre-interval cliffhanger is also a stretch. The writers choose convenience over logic to create one obstacle after another in Champak’s way, and by the time the lights come on at intermission Angrezi Medium feels like it has fully lost its way. But then something surprising happens in the film’s second half – it’s the reason film critics don’t give up on films mid way – the humour becomes sharper, the dialogues start to crackle, the Irrfan-Deepak chemistry hits its stride, and despite the still sloppy screenplay the rock solid ensemble of actors vastly improves this average film.

Pankaj Tripathi shines even in a single-scene cameo as a Dubai fixer tasked with helping Champak and Gopi to enter England illegally. When they balk at each of his risky suggestions, he says to them, exasperatedly: “Yeh koi saree shop nahi hai, ‘Koi aur option dikhao!’” Radhika Madan has a natural presence on screen, and Kareena Kapoor plays a perennially angry London cop whose first encounter with Champak and Gopi is flat-out hilarious. In smaller roles, Kiku Sharda, Ranvir Shorey, and Dimple Kapadia round out the cast nicely.

However the heavy lifting is up to Irrfan Khan and Deepak Dobriyal, who play off each other so well it’s like watching a perfectly synchronised dance. Deepak, who is supremely talented but vastly underrated, brings little moments of physical humour to complement the rat-a-tat verbal exchanges; he is one of the film’s big strengths.

And yet it’s impossible to overlook the script’s old-fashioned, and frankly outdated worldview when it comes to parent-child politics. We’re in 2020 and Indian parents – certainly according to this film – will continue to emotionally blackmail and guilt their kids into doing exactly what they want. Indian kids don’t fly the nest; independence is frowned upon. Somewhere in this mix the writers even find room for some ‘mera bharat mahaan’ messaging.

If you can overlook those problems there are some pleasures to be had, chief among them the joy of taking in Irrfan’s performance. It’s an effortless job – ‘makkhan’ as they say in Hindi – a performance so light on its feet, it never feels like acting. He invests Champak with genuine humanity, despite the uneven script. You can’t help feeling especially appreciative knowing that he made the film while critically unwell.

In the end I feel like Angrezi Medium is one part clunky, and one part enjoyable. It’s not a perfect film – far from it – but I will admit I came out with a smile. I’m going with a generous three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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