Written By: Aayushi Agarwal
India may be a country with 22 official languages, but the English language has always played a hand in local social roles and hierarchies. I am very fascinated by the socio-cultural implications of language, and Hindi Medium is a film that shows the same.
Released in 2017, this film is the story of a middle-class family that wants to enroll their daughter in a prestigious English-medium school in order to rise in society. The Batras initially try to fit in with the elite crowd, but are rejected due to the family’s limited English proficiency. Switching approaches, they decide to take advantage of the Right to Education quota, which gives underprivileged children the opportunity to join reputable institutions, by acting poor. As they befriend their new neighbors and build a home in the slums, the Batras are forced to acknowledge their idolization of the English language and challenge their ideas of a “good” education.
With performances by stars like Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar, Hindi Medium does a great job of criticizing the grasp the English language holds over the Indian class and society. Those that speak English are depicted as wealthy and thus, of a refined and subdued manner. The rich people of Delhi seem to have shed their culture to instead adopt a Western lifestyle. Alternatively, Hindi is characterized as loud and more vibrant, with scenes of song and dance. The juxtaposition of the two lingual experiences throws a light on how Indian society associates language with socio-economic class. English is framed as the “superior” language, a sign of wealth and scholarship, an idea that seems to be another dreg from the time of the British Raj.
As for some last thoughts, I have watched this film a couple of times, and it only gets better with each rewatch. Its well-written script provides a lot of food for thought with its social commentary on the subtleties of the lingual hierarchy. Similar films like English Vinglish have also been made, and I hope more are produced in the same vein. Language is a medium for communication and it should remain that, rather than becoming a deciding factor for anything in our society.