“Angrezi Medium”… Irrfan Khan sinks with other talented actors in a near-unwatchable drama about dreams (or something)

Posted on March 16, 2020


The film is so wretchedly written, tonally so all over the place that it set my teeth on edge – especially the relentless cutesiness.

Spoilers ahead…

Tony is a shady man who specialises in smuggling people into countries, and at one point, in front of two potential illegal immigrants, he refers to the map of the United Kingdom: “Yeh English Channel hai. TV channel nahin jo remote se paar kar sakoge.” It’s a bad joke. Actually, it’s a terrible joke. But when it came up in Angrezi Medium, I half-smiled. It’s because of the actor playing Tony: Pankaj Tripathi. He softens his speaking voice – it’s as though his larynx has been upholstered with velvet. He affects campy mannerisms. In other words, he tries. Even if he’s selling shit, a good actor knows he’s got to make it smell sweet.

That’s what Irrfan Khan does, too. And Deepak Dobriyal. And Radhika Madan, whose character gives the film its title. She plays Tarika, the descendent of an ultra-conservative mithai-making family in Udaipur. (Her father is the Irrfan character, who’s named Champak.) Tarika wants to do her higher studies in the UK, and there’s a core of genuine emotion here. Her father did not take her mother’s wish seriously, when she said – during the wedding – that she wanted to pursue her post-graduation. He laughed it off, and the woman died a little after giving birth to Tarika. Champak, who now realises his mistake, tells his daughter that that’s what happens when your dreams are snatched from you: you lose your reason for living. He does not want the same thing to happen with Tarika.

This could make for solid drama. But the director, Homi Adajania, is unable to settle on a mood. Angrezi Medium is so wretchedly written, tonally so all over the place that it set my teeth on edge – especially the relentless cutesiness. We get “cute” father-daughter scenes like the one where Tarika comes home drunk and “cutely” tries to avoid Champak, followed by a “cute” courtroom scene where Champak’s “cutely” eccentric extended family awaits a verdict on who inherits the brand name of their business, followed by a “cute” airport scene (in London) where Champak “cutely” tells a suspicious officer that he deals in drugs (he means medicines, of course)…

The result is near-unwatchable. I found myself yearning for the deliberate inanity of Baaghi 3, which was at least single-minded about its purpose. (Sell Tiger Shroff! Sell Tiger Shroff! Sell Tiger Shroff!) In Angrezi Medium – which is about Champak’s efforts to get Tarika into a top UK college, by hook or by crook – we don’t know what’s being sold. A melodrama, replete with dad-humiliation scenes and ungrateful-daughter scenes? A sentimental tale that wants us to wipe away tears and say “Look at the things a father will do for his child”? A condescending comedy about bumbling hicks, with slapstick car chases? A drama about a young girl breaking free from her orthodox upbringing? By the time we get to the truly bizarre subplot with an estranged mother/daughter (Dimple Kapadia, Kareena Kapoor Khan), all bets are off. The constantly screaming child two seats away from me quickly became the second most annoying thing in the theatre.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi