Sunday, March 15, 2020


Release date:
March 13, 2020
Homi Adajania
Irrfan, Radhika Madan, Deepak Dobriyal, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Ranvir Shorey, Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Tripathi, Kiku Sharda, Tillotama Shome, Zakir Hussain, Meghna Malik

Angrezi Medium’s opening does not bode well for what is to come. Text on a black screen at the start offers an amusing definition of the Hindi word “pita” and while translating that definition into English, mistranslates “pita” as “parent”. Ummm, “pita” is “father”. 

This is a curious slip-up because despite the post-1960s Bollywood tradition of marginalising women, mothers have been deified to kingdom come by this film industry. And if a deeper meaning is sought to be conveyed here, about the protagonist (a man we have yet to meet) doubling up as Mum and Dad to his child, sorry, it does not come across. This throws up a troubling question right at the start of Angrezi Medium: would the film proceed to take the marginalisation of women to new lows? Despite its opening misfire, the answer is: actually not. 

Director Homi Adajania’s Angrezi Medium stars Irrfan as Champak Bansal, a widower in Udaipur who will go to any lengths to ensure his daughter Tarika Bansal’s happiness. Tarika has always, always dreamt of seeing the world, and when an opportunity to travel to London comes up in her late teens, she eyes it eagerly. Champak must overcome his fear of losing her, financial challenges and his penchant for being indiscreet to help her get there. 

Through a series of misadventures, Tarika does end up in London, so do Champak and his cousin Gopi. As you would have gathered from the trailer, the men are pretending to be someone they are not, leading to a further series of misadventures, mishaps and misunderstandings. 

There is great drama in the plotline, but it is not over-dramatised in its presentation. The result is an even-toned narrative and a consistently funny, consistently reflective story on the balance that must be struck between holding on yet letting go in any loving relationship that does not suffocate either party. 

Angrezi Medium is Adajania’s fourth feature. His debut, Being Cyrus, was an edgy thriller. Cocktail was a step down with its revival of outmoded gender and sectarian stereotypes. Angrezi Medium is debatable but interesting.

This new film is a follow-up but not a sequel to the 2017 hit Hindi Medium in which Irrfan and Pakistani star Saba Qamar played a Delhi couple desperate to get their daughter out of the old-fashioned, traditionalist milieu of Chandni Chowk and into an English medium school in the capital’s snootier quarters. 

Like Raj from Hindi Medium, Champak too can barely speak English, a language that continues to have aspirational value across India. This, however, is an extraneous point in Angrezi Medium. Champak is not quite as wealthy as the BMW-driving Raj, but he is financially well off. Money too is not the driving force of this plot. The focus of Angrezi Medium is Champak’s single-minded commitment to Tarika that leads him to introspect about his conservatism while she reconsiders her somewhat conventional interpretation of taking flight. 

Written by Bhavesh Mandalia, Gaurav Shukla, Vinay Chhawal and Sara Bodinar, Angrezi Medium’s first victory comes with its use of language. The film’s characters speak a Rajasthani Hindi that is a pleasure to listen to, its rhythm rib-tickling to those of us unaccustomed to it. At no point is it used to caricature the characters speaking it though. I did at first wish for subtitles, but after the first half hour it grew on me.

The writing team has managed to broach multiple themes without making the screenplay feel crowded. At a time when Islamophobia is tearing through our social fabric, Angrezi Medium takes a passing comical swipe at those who stereotype Muslims with specific superficial markers. In a film industry and a society that have consistently prioritised the aspirations of male children, it is also refreshing to see a story of a father’s reactions to an independent-minded daughter’s dreams without any self-conscious tomtomming of their gender by the filmmaker. 

Hindi films were once obsessed with the mother-son bond. Angrezi Medium deals with a range of parent-child equations from the pivotal father-daughter pair to a significant mother-daughter and a father-son on the sidelines. Even in its unspoken Indian-vs-Western-culture viewpoint, the film is atypical. 

Where it does stumble into conformist territory is in brief conversations where Champak speaks of the selfishness of children who leave their parents on reaching adulthood and accuses such youngsters of using their parents for 18 years before dumping them. Of course there are kids who head out without sparing a thought for parents who were good to them, kids who toss such parents out of their lives without any consideration for their needs or feelings, and of course such kids are jerks, but Angrezi Medium fails to acknowledge that in the place where the film is set at that point, it is just as common for parents to chuck their kids out when they turn 18. And in India, where such a practice is alien, parents go to another extreme and interfere in their children’s existence as a matter of right. And what of parents across the world who are rotters? If you do not have the space to at least touch upon all these points, it is terribly unfair to dwell on just one, especially considering that Indian films tend to pedestalise parents or at the very least view them with an uncritical eye.

These passages in Angrezi Medium are aberrations in a film that is largely non-judgemental in its approach to its characters. Thankfully, the screenplay does not stretch the point too far and sort of sorts it out in the end. 

Angrezi Medium’s other frailties are not connected to the values it sets out to propagate. A prologue about how Champak has been confused since childhood feels contrived, even if a link is clearly intended between that juvenile indecisiveness and his adult confusion in a changing world. This plot element is marginal to the proceedings though. 

Far more problematic is the way the narrative intermittently flags in the second half when it spends too much time on the often improbable, even impossible means Champak employs to get Tarika admission to the college of her choice. Irrfan and Dobriyal are lovely together, but the film loses steam in these portions by straying too far from the Dad and daughter and becoming too much about the cousins. On the whole too, as a result, Angrezi Medium unwittingly becomes more about a devoted father than it is about a father and daughter, it becomes more about Champak than it is about Champak and Tarika. 

This is an injustice to Tarika who is purportedly the second lead. Post-interval Angrezi Medium is less invested in her than it was pre-interval, a writing choice that subtracts from its overall impact. The screenplay redeems itself by getting right back to her in the end. 

(Aside: This, I suspect, was a Freudian slip. We are so used to placing men, their work and their needs at the centre of our stories – read: our personal lives, our art, our news coverage – that the best of us often do not realise how we have internalised our social conditioning. It shows up in many ways big and tiny, including how a screenplay writer might unconsciously prioritise a male character over a woman, or translate the common-gender “parent” as the masculine gender “pita”, or – if the headline of this review gave you pause, then please note – how socially we casually use masculine expressions such as “thinking man’s film”, “mankind”, “manpower” and “man hours” for gender-neutral circumstances but are startled or offended when anyone similarly uses the feminine gender.)

Radhika Madan as Tarika is a perfect fit for a role that requires her to match up to the formidable Irrfan. In her debut Hindi feature, Vishal Bhardwaj’s wacko Pataakha, she had proved her ability to carry a film on her shoulders as one of two female leads. In Angrezi Medium she stands her ground in an ensemble film, acing the comedy, the fieriness of her character, her pensive moments and her maturing with equal confidence. 

I am not sure why Kareena Kapoor Khan agreed to play a supporting character in Angrezi Medium, since male superstars almost never make such choices in Bollywood. That she agreed is the film’s good fortune because she is a stately presence in a small but important role. 

Deepak Dobriyal blazes his way through Angrezi Medium with the smashing comic timing that made him stand out in Tanu Weds Manu and Hindi Medium. Give him more, Bollywood. C’mooon, give him more. 

Time, trouble and money have evidently been spent on casting even characters who get just a few seconds to minutes of screen time in Angrezi Medium. Unlike most Hindi films that cut corners by recruiting cringe-worthy individuals to play foreigners, this one has good actors in those parts too, which is crucial since most of the film is set abroad. 

Irrfan is returning to acting after a long break due to a health scare. He seems to have grown as an artiste in this time away from the public eye. He is so consumed by his character that the strain of doing an accent never once shows, nor does he, unlike many lesser actors in other films, allow that accent to overpower his sensitive performance. After The Lunchbox, Champak in Angrezi Medium must rank as among his best work. A fine performance for a fun film.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 2.75

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
145 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Posters courtesy:

Friday, March 6, 2020


Release date:
March 6, 2020
Ahmed Khan
Tiger Shroff, Riteish Deshmukh, Shraddha Kapoor, Ankita Lokhande, Vijay Varma, Jaideep Ahlawat, Jackie Shroff, Satish Kaushik, Virendra Saxena

Yes Tiger Shroff fans, he does take off his shirt in Baaghi 3. Unlike some Bollywood films of the past decade in which male stars have stripped off their tops for no apparent reason right before a big fight, here an excuse to display that ripped torso is written into the script: the hero’s shirt catches fire so he has to tear it off to save himself. 

With such tweaks and touches does Baaghi 3 convince itself that it is different from the templated ventures in which Shroff has been acting since his fists exploded on screen in 2014’s Heropanti. Clarification: it is not. 

Baaghi 3 is a remake of the Tamil film Vettai (The Hunt), which starred Arya as the omnipotent brother of a cowardly policeman played by R. Madhavan. Team Baaghi’s poor attitude to quality is confirmed once and for all when the closing credits announce that Vettai was a Telugu film. I suppose because Tamil, Telugu = saaaauth = Madrasi? Ki farak painda? Same same, no?  

Anyway, in the Hindi version, Shroff plays Ronnie Chaturvedi who has been aggressively protective of his elder brother Vikram since they were kids. Their father once exhorted Ronnie to forever take care of Vikram who has always been a cowering kitten. When they grow up, Ronnie encourages his sibling to become a policeman, hoping that the uniform will give him a sense of self-worth. Until that happens, one bhai bashes up gangsters of every shade in Agra on behalf of his policeman bhai who then takes the credit. 

In Vettai, the brothers’ area of operation was Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, but since gang wars in a single Indian city are small change for Shroff I guess, Baaghi 3 travels to Syria where the story becomes about – as the trailer has already grandly informed us – “one man against the whole country”. 

The foray into Syria is a departure from the post-2014 trend in Bollywood of demonising Muslims to cash in on rising off-screen Islamophobia. Unlike Kesari, which distorted history to fit this narrative, and unlike Kalank, which was selective in its account of Partition for the very same reason, Baaghi 3 makes an overt, clumsy attempt to state that Indian Muslims are not villains, that Indians and Pakistanis are bhai-bhai, and that we are all helpless victims of demons from the Middle East.

One of the many problems with this line though is that you can hardly hope to counter the din of prevailing Islamophobia with a new round of stereotyping and with immature writing in a film whose primary purpose is not this anyway, but to show off its special effects, its action choreography and Mister Shroff in all his well-muscled, topless glory. 

Of course Baaghi 3 does not have the intellectual depth to take the conversation further either, to ask why the word terrorist in our country is habitually applied to those killing in the name of Islam and never to those who organised the mobs that murdered and raped Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, Muslims in Gujarat 2002 and Christians in Odisha in 2008. A counter to Islamophobia can come only from the thoughtful writing of films like Raazi and Gully Boy in which Muslims are portrayed as normal human beings of all hues – good, evil and the in-betweens. 

If “nuance” were the last word left on Earth, you could not apply it to Baaghi 3. Well-intentioned, loud, gory, clichéd – yes. Nuanced – absolutely not. And to be fair, director Ahmed Khan makes no such promise. Nor did the trailer, which makes his intentions clear with this juvenile tagline: “Whack smack attack, never look back.” 

Farhad Samji, who has written Baaghi 3’s screenplay and dialogues, initially gives characters a few bombastic, rhyming lines of the sort that were once common – and often fun – in commercial Hindi cinema, but that have become boring with decades of over-use. Ronnie gets this one: “Mujhpe aati toh main chhod deta, mere bhai pe aati toh main phod deta hoon.” And this one: “Jo uniform pehenta hai, voh hamesha form mein rehta hai.” And Vikram’s senior is saddled with, “Yeh gaadenge jhanda, jo sambhaal nahin sakte danda,” because Vikram is clumsy with the baton in his arms. (Sorry, non-Hindi speakers, I am not making the effort to translate those lines for you.) This formulaic element is dispensed with early on though, as the leading man’s action skills, his naked torso, fisticuffs, bombs, flying cars, helicopters and tanks take centre stage. 

Shroff’s body looks intimidatingly muscular in Baaghi 3 – and that is my sole comment on his acting in this review. 

Riteish Deshmukh as Vikram over-acts less here than he did in the insufferable Marjaavaan last year, which is sad, because he actually does deserve better than such films. 

Disha Patani in Baaghi 3

Women hang around on the margins of Baaghi 3 to look pretty, to love, be loved and protected by the men, to occasionally dance and wear tiny clothes. Towards this end, Shraddha Kapoor has been cast as Ronnie’s girlfriend Siya whose carefully constructed wavy hair does not get mussed up even during a string of terror attacks in Syria. And Disha Patani makes an appearance swaying in her underwear to a boring song called Do You Love Me?. If I did, I swear, lady, I would have fallen out of love with you by the end of that drab number. 

Along the way, the wonderful Jaideep Ahlawat from Gangs of Wasseypur and Raazi turns up to make no impression at all as an Indian gangsta called IPL (short for Inder Paheli Lamba...ooh, so clever). Vijay Varma, who has proved his fabulousness in Pink and Monsoon Shootout among other films, is wasted in the role of a clownish, good-hearted Pakistani. And Israeli actor Jameel Khoury gets to play a game of terrorist-terrorist as a certain Abu Jalal Gaza, mastermind of a certain Jaish e Lashkar. 

How can any actor’s performance be justly assessed in a film in which a murderous terrorist generously gives Ronnie a break in the middle of a battle unto death, so that little bro can look moony-eyed at big bro and have an emotional conversation?

Everyone and everything in Baaghi 3 is incidental though in the face of the film’s determination to foreground Shroff’s nimbleness. I was reduced to a gawking, envious, emotional mess when I saw his legs stretch out at a 180-degree angle in mid-air as he leapt out of (or towards, I have forgotten which) a flying helicopter. Even that scene, however, could not beat the split he performs to slide smoothly under a moving armoured tank and emerge on the other side. 

You can imagine how uninspiring the script is that despite all this high-adrenaline action, Baaghi 3 lacks fire. There is a scene in the film in which a wounded terrorist tells Abu Jalal Gaza: “We have not been attacked by America...or Mossad. There is only one man looking for Vikram.” Aiyyo. To use that very Indian English expression: too much!

It was bad enough that silly Vettai was inflicted on the world. Baaghi 3 is more ambitious than the original and ends up being worse.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 1.5

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
147 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Posters courtesy: