Cast: Irrfan Khan, Radhika Madan, Kareena Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Kiku Sharda, Deepak Dobriyal
Director: Homi Adajania
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
The man Irrfan Khan fleshes out with effort to spare in Homi Adajania's Angrezi Medium has a comic flaw. Champak Bansal, Udaipur mithai shop owner and single parent, is forever in two minds. Yes or no, this or that, here or there: he is inevitably pulled in contrary directions whenever he has to make a life-altering decision.
Confusion is, therefore, the name of the game in Angrezi Medium, a Hindi Medium follow-up that does not quite make the grade. As long as the hemming and hawing is limited to the protagonist, it generates a certain amount of mirth. But when the screenplay, credited to four writers (too many cooks...?), muddles things up, which is more frequently than is good for the film, it definitely isn't good news, no matter what medium one chooses to deliver it in.
Angrezi Medium make ungainly attempts to mine laughs from the misadventures of a well-intentioned individual whose English language proficiency is severely impaired but who, when push comes to shove, is willing to go to any length to pave the way for his daughter Tarika (Radhika Madan) to study in a university in the United Kingdom.
Champak rubs Tarika's school principal (Meghna Malik) the wrong way, publicly accuses her sessions court judge-husband (Zakir Hussain) of corruption, seeks assistance from a dodgy NRI friend (Ranvir Shorey), gets deported from England for admitting that he works for a man who is in the business of drugs (that is the word Google throws up when he searches for the meaning of 'dawaai') and, undeterred, he returns to London with a fake Pakistani passport.
For a modest screwball comedy about a doting father and his daughter, all this could be a deemed pretty passable. But as the principal premise for the redoubtable Irrfan's first big screen appearance in over a year and a half, it isn't up to scratch.
Angrezi Medium is a tiresome romp that hurtles out of control even before it's got any sort of rhythm going. It is at sixes and sevens as it strains to add up the awkward situations that Champak repeatedly lands himself in. Irrfan plays the part with customary flair but consistency eludes the film.
Radhika Madan, in her third Bollywood outing, makes a fair fist of the role of a small-town girl with a big-time dream, but the wildly conflicting impulses that the screenplay imposes upon the character undermines the overall impact of the performance. Her stylised dialogue delivery, which is a dull drawl mixed with a hint of a nasal intonation, is a bit disorienting at times.
The writers are unable to stitch together the padding that could serve to hide the film's creases, play down the insubstantiality of the principal idea, and hold a two-and-a-half-hour movie together. More than the film, it is Irrfan that the flaccid, wayward script lets down.
The supporting actors, too, have reason to feel hard done by, Deepak Dobriyal not the least among them. He lifts the film with his canny interpretation of Champak's cousin Gopi, who bickers with him over the ownership of the family mithai brand until the two men decide to join forces to help Tarika realise her dream of jetting off to London in search of new pastures.
Angrezi Medium traces Champak's inability to make up his mind to an opening sequence in which the boy plays street cricket with his friends. He struggles to decide where he should to take his batting stance. I don't know if I should play on the front foot or the back, he wonders aloud by way an explanation for his dithering.
It is another matter that where a batsman stands at the crease - on it, inside it or outside it - has no real bearing on whether he would to play on the front foot or the back foot, but the confusion that bedevils Champak the boy goes beyond the realms of gully cricket and continues to afflict Champak the man. The first half of Angrezi Medium is bearable probably because of the quirkiness of Champak's equivocations. In the second half, his propensity for prevarication wears thin as a narrative device, leading to passages that seem wholly superfluous.
To state the obvious one more time, Irrfan Khan is absolutely fabulous as Champak. He flits effortlessly from the emotional to the ecstatic to the zany, creating some endearing moments in concert with Dobriyal and Kiku Sharda (who plays a childhood friend-turned-travel agent). If Angrezi Medium is genuinely funny in parts, it is due in large measure to the lead actor's ability to salvage scenes that barely pass muster.
The screenplay simply does not measure up to the demands that the actor makes on it. Hobbled by contradictory impulses, it never gets its line of thinking right. It wants us to warm up in this day and age to an 18-year-old girl who has no agency despite the fact that she keeps harping on the need for freedom.
Tarika is an average student who records a dramatic improvement in the qualifying test, but she still has her dad accompanying her everywhere as she looks for the ways and means to get a seat in a UK institution of higher learning.
When the action shifts to London, the contrivances turn far worse and queer the pitch completely. The film looks for comic energy and dramatic highs but to no avail. It throws in Kareena Kapoor Khan (as London police officer Naina Kohli), Dimple Kapadia (as the cop's estranged mother) and Pankaj Tripathi (in a cameo as a human smuggler). But none of the characters is etched out sufficiently.
The lingo that Champak and his pals in Udaipur speak is rooted in the soil. It contributes to the authenticity of the setting. However, Champak and Gopi's mithai business stays firmly off-screen. They talk about the brand that they have inherited, Ghasiteram Mithai, but they are never seen plying their trade except for one brief early sequence in which the two men fall over each other to impress upon a foreigner that one makes jalebis are better than the other. Angrezi Medium does not exude the smell of the sweets that the lead character sells for a living.
Other attempts at comedy include two scenes in which the brothers drink cheap liquor with Gajju (Sharda) and launch into a competitive guilt trip, confessing to the litany of wrongs one has committed against the other. This whisky-fuelled confession time is meant to be funny, but if you take Irrfan and Dobriyal out of the equation there would nothing left in the drunken exchanges to write home about.
That, in a nutshell, is Angrezi Medium. It is Irrfan and Dobriyal all the way. To put it in not-so-plain Angrezi, the rest is just laboured artifice.