Tag Archives: Hindi Medium

Irrfan, Because He Liked the Sound of the Extra R

Sahabzade Irfan Ali Khan was studying for his MA degree when he won a scholarship to study at the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi in 1984. The young man from Tonk, Rajasthan had a single R in his name. He was Irfan.

In 2012, he changed the spelling of his name and became Irrfan Khan. Khan had recently received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor for his contribution to the field of arts. He had garnered the National Film Award for Best Actor in the 60th National Film Awards 2012.

He said he liked the sound of the extra “r” in his name.

His first offer out of drama school seemed a plump one. He was a final year student at NSD in 1988 when Mira Nair chose him for a role in Salaam Bombay. We never saw him in Salaam Bombay because his role was edited out in the final film.

Slowly Irrfan unfurled across our screens, an unlikely hero. He did not seem to have sex appeal. He spoke casually on screen, as if he was seated beside you and was not a celluloid dream weaver, whispering comments into your ear as a fellow audience member. As he caught one’s attention more and more, the audience hungered to go to the movies with him.

About him, Danny Boyle said, “he has an instinctive way of finding the “moral center” of any character, so that in Slumdog, we believe the policeman might actually conclude that Jamal is innocent. Boyle compares him to an athlete who can execute the same move perfectly over and over. “It’s beautiful to watch.”

His stride into Hollywood did not make a splash like Priyanka Chopra’s. He casually sauntered across the continents and when we saw him in Life of Pi we were not surprised at all.

“Why do Hollywood filmmakers always pick Irrfan Khan for their movies? Why don’t they pick SRK, Salman Khan, or Amir Khan even, being the biggest of Bollywood?” asked Dipesh Doshi an avid moviegoer.

He just remains terribly interesting.

His appeal as a fellow audience member may explain the respect with which the media has honored his request to give him privacy while he sorts out his medical issue. He commands their respect sure but the real deal is that they love him as a brother.

His wife reassured his fellow travelers on the celluloid journey.

“My best friend and my partner is a ‘warrior’ he is fighting every obstacle with tremendous grace and beauty. I apologize for not answering calls msgs, but I want all of you to know I am truly humbled indebted forever for the wishes prayers and concern from all over the world. I am grateful to God and my partner for making me a warrior too. I am at present focused on the strategies of the battlefield which I have to conquer.


It wasn’t and isn’t and is not going to be easy but the hope ignited by the magnitude of family, friends, and fans of Irrfan has made me only optimistic and almost sure of the victory.


I know curiosity germinates from concern but let’s turn our curiosity from what it is to what it should be. Let’s change the leaf.


Let’s not waste our precious energies to only know what it is and just pray to make it what it should be.


My humble request to all of you is to concentrate on the song of life, to dance of life to victory.


My family will soon join in this dance of life.


Thank you all from the bottom of our heart.


Sutapa irrfan babil ayaan.”

The return of Irrfan with the two RRs was awaited. You never came back. We waited. The last farewell in Angrezi Medium still hurts. Irfan Khan passed away on April 29, 2020, after being admitted to the ICU for a colon infection.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

This article was originally published on March 12, 2018.

The Parent Trap

The Parent Trap

HINDI MEDIUM: Director: Saket Chaudhary. Players: Irfan Khan, Saba Qamar, Amrita Singh, Deepak Dobriyal, Sanjay Suri, Neha Dhupia.  Music: Sachin-Jigar. Hindi and Eng. with Eng. sub-titles. Theatrical release (T Series)Irfan Khan and Saba Qamar

The right job. The right address. The right school. For some cognizanti, there are hallmarks of success. In the peculiar form of Indian affluenza, however, a couple of other idioms can also be tossed in. Borrowing from both Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukherjee’s Bengali entry Ramdhanu (2014) and also Rajesh Nair’s Malayalam language comedy Salt Mango Tree (2015), Chaudhary and company spin the same theme to come up with a sharp satire of India’s education system and also the tools for equal opportunity embedded therein to level the field for more applicants.

For successful Delhi dress shop owner Raj Batra (Khan) and his wife Meeta (Qamar), the chase to enroll their four-year old daughter to the right school is in full gear. The daughter is academically gifted and, provided they land a coveted spot on the admission list, the couple can easily afford any of the top-rated schools. This should be a slam dunk. Not so fast. Why so, the Batras ask the admissions “coach” hired to chaperone them through the cut-throat jungle of competitive pre-school —yes, pre-school and not high school let alone college admissions. The teensy problem is that the Batras’ shop is located in Chandni Chowk, a famed, teeming old Delhi neighborhood which happens to fail the “criteria” the top-rated schools desire in Indian zip codes for where they recruit from.

The Batras find themselves in a social minefield trip-wired with landmines comprised of judgmental playground tart-mommies and show-off party attendees whose weapon of choice is accusatory, disapproving visual darts.  The Batras’ limited command of English is used against them as amounting to not only a necessity for communication in the modern world—which it truly is—but even more heavily as a moral flaw. For wannabe social ladder climbers, this is precisely the doctrine the British used against Indians when mandating English-first on sub-continent curriculums in the 19th century; that the Indians could not be considered “civilized” if they were to only use their indigenous languages. Thumbing its nose at that very notion, therefore, makes the brilliantly self-reliant title Hindi Medium, and not English Medium, sparkle even more.

The Batras’ greatest “shortcoming” is not where they live or how they dress but it is their limited command of English.  India has by far the largest number of half-English speakers in the world, thanks to its colonial legacy. Many Indians routinely weave in and out of English interspersed with a local language and knowing even a few words of English can rightfully be a source of pride for them. Maddening as that can sound, it is essentially a charm Indians use to open up their country to outsiders—indeed, no tourist with even a rudimentary grasp of English would ever get lost in India or be made to feel unwelcome in asking for directions.  That is the Indian spirit at its raw best—adapt or adopt, mingle and move on.

So how does a family cope? Can one move to a more desirable locale? That would have commuting pitfalls for sure.  Can one overcome the mean, iron-fisted headmistress (Singh) who controls admissions at one school?  The dimming chances of successfully assailing the awkward yet mandatory “interview” required of applicant parents could put chances of landing admission fair to middling at best and disastrous at worst. Can one find a way to apply through the interview-free quota system used to encourage economically disadvantaged students to apply? As funny as that could be, mind you, it could just spiral into an unintended yet perhaps telling experiment in downward social mobility.  For the Batras, the angry gods have laid out a meticulously perfect and cruel parent trap.

In superb lead, Khan is all fidgety with his English diction and provincial mannerism while Qamar, a Pakistani beauty making her Indian debut, nails the neurotic urbanite intent on outshining all her poser so-called girlfriends. Singh as the dowdy schoolmarm and especially Dobriyal as the factory worker that may impart for Raj a lesson in humility round out a fine cast.  With Sachin-Jigar’s decent score—check out Atif Aslam’s romantic “Noor” and Guru Randhawa and Arjun’s catchy “Suit Suit” —and tremendous plot pacing, Hindi Medium rekindles all the insightful, observant and fun reasons for going to the movies.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.