Pakistani actress Saba Qamar and Indian actor Irrfan Khan, who feature in the satire Hindi Medium out now in UAE cinemas, have something in common: their distaste for uninspired education.
“I was a very bad student… I was ahead in many things, but when the time came to study, I just made a face and used to feel bad that I had to study,” said Qamar, who was born to parents who gave a lot of importance to education and often question her career choice. The actress, who makes her Bollywood debut with Khan, calls herself a rebel with a worthy cause.
“I was a namoonah [an odd ball] in a family where my dad was a doctor and my mother was so educated. I used to keep telling them: ‘go watch the movie Taare Zameen Par, that film that says don’t impose your choices on your children. Don’t tell me to become a doctor or an engineer. Leave it to me on what I want to become,” said Qamar. Her co-star Khan isn’t far from her school of thought. Like Qamar, Khan too was bored out his wits in his classroom and felt imprisoned there.
“I didn’t connect to my school education. I was a backbencher and we studied because one had to study. There was this notion that everyone should be a graduate. For that reason alone, my education had no use,” said Khan.
The award-winning actor, who has acted in a variety of films such as Paan Singh Tomar, The Life Of Pi and The Namesake, believes that his Indian education did not explore his personality or cater to his interests. It was only in the National School of Drama in Delhi, during his theatre training, that he learnt to apply himself.
“If your studies are job-oriented, then studious people who choose education for logical, rational reasons benefit. For others, it doesn’t help,” said Khan, adding that he always advised his own children to ignore grades and concentrate on finding a vocation that they are passionate about.
Having such radical views about education made these two actors gravitate towards director Saket Chaudhary’s film, Hindi Medium, which explores a couple’s desire to get their daughter into to a posh English-medium school.
Displaying an eagerness that was absent during their own school days, the two actors were game to take on their roles. Khan’s character, Raj, can’t match his wife’s aspirational demands.
“I am very excited about my debut. I play a person who didn’t get an opportunity to fulfil her dreams so she comes up with a scheme about giving the daughter a life that she didn’t have,” said Qamar over the phone from Pakistan. She describes her debut Bollywood film as a comedy that explores South Asian society’s obsession with the English language and how being able to speak it is a status symbol.
“It’s a story about a middle-class family and it’s light-hearted and relatable. We focus on the aspects of life that are often left unspoken… In our places [countries], there are so many people with a lot of complexes and they are ashamed of speaking their own mother tongue. If we don’t speak English a certain way, there’s a belief that we will be judged,” said Qamar. The film explores the sensitive topic of parents’ aspirations, the rise of fancy schools and the materialism that’s pervasive in society. During the interview with Qamar, she spoke in Urdu often, and claims that she never judges people by their outer appearances.
“I am very sweet generally, but if someone tries to be over-smart by speaking to me in fancy English, then I go: ‘who are you?’ It isn’t right. We often judge people by their cars and the money they have… Sometimes worth is decided based on outer appearances and that’s sad,” said Qamar.
For Khan, his reason for accepting the role in Hindi Medium was because it was a heart-warming family entertainer that had the potential to resonate with Indian parents. Plus, it touched upon realistic subjects without becoming preachy. Hindi Medium will hold a mirror to the reality of education in India.
“We don’t have good government schools or schools of other Indian languages. We don’t have a choice. Every parent wants their kid to study in a good school. But what’s the definition of a good school when you don’t have choices?” asked Khan, alluding to India’s poorly managed state-run schools. Although the topic sounds grave, it has been dealt with niftily,” he said.
“When Saket narrated this subject, there was always a possibility that these subjects could end up being preachy. It could be a death knell for a movie, so we worked on the script a lot before starting work,” Khan added.
Both Qamar and Khan enjoy a great rapport too. Khan had recommended Qamar to the director after watching her comic videos.
“She’s an experienced actress and we needed someone with a good timing who can be in the character and be glamorous as well. She fit the bill perfectly and was outstanding in her role. She has this wonderful screen presence too,” said Khan.
Khan on nepotism, and why people should get over it.
“My whole concern about this nepotism debate is that erupted out of nothing. People who are doing these debates on these platforms — the intention of the debate is not right. They just want to create noise. They just have some ulterior motive and they are using these issue to catch more eyeballs. Neither the anchor or the channel or the guests on the panel are interested in that topic. They don’t want a healthy debate. To bring people who can create more noise is what the news and journalism has been reduced to.”
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Hindi Medium is currently showing in the UAE.