INTERVIEW

Saket Choudhary clears the air on plagiarism charge, says ‘Hindi Medium’ is an original film

The director of ‘Pyaar Ke Side Effects’ denies that the May 19 release is a copy of the 2014 Bengali hit ‘Ramdhanu’.

One of the themes of Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium is the privilege attached to an English medium education. Raj (Irrfan), a wealthy businessman from Delhi, is not fluent in English, while his wife Mita (Saba Qamar) is adamant on enrolling their daughter in a posh school. They go to great and often seriocomic lengths to secure their daughter’s future.

Chaudhary made his big screen debut with Pyaar Ke Side Effects (2006), which he followed up with Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014). He had previously worked in television, spoofing Dhoom (2004) as Ghoom (2006). Hindi Medium is a light-hearted comedy that also addresses anomalies in the Right to Education Act, which has attracted the ire of Bengali filmmakers Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee. They have accused Chaudhary of copying the themes explored in their Bengali hit Ramdhanu (2014). Choudhary spoke to Scroll.in about the plagiarism charges and the reason behind the long gaps between his films.

What is the status of the allegation that ‘Hindi Medium’ is plagiarised from ‘Ramdhanu’?
I think people jumped to conclusions too early. As more and more information about Hindi Medium came out, it became evident that the scope of the film was entirely different. My film is based on original material that my co-writer Zeenat Lakhani and I developed. It was during the research of my previous film Shaadi Ke Side Effects that we stumbled upon an article about a man whose daughter was rejected by a school because he had an arts degree. So he enrolled in an MBA programme to get her through. That struck a chord and triggered the idea.

Play
Hindi Medium (2017).

What were the challenges in writing the script?
Hindi Medium is about a couple wanting to put their daughter into a good English medium school for which they themselves have to score through an interview, so in a way it’s a test that they have to take and pass to get her through.

The first draft was not up to the mark, so we went back to the story. We incorporated the element of the Right to Education Act, according to which both child and parents do not have to sit for an admission interview. That important message had to come through the comedy narrative, and it gave our film a much stronger impact.

Was Irrfan your first choice for the main lead?
Yes, he was the only one I absolutely wanted for the role.

Did you fear that the film could court controversy due to Pakistani actress Saba Qamar’s presence?
When we started finalising the actors, she fit the part because I had seen her work in some Pakistani serials. We approached her without thinking about nationality. It’s only towards the final days of the shoot in 2016 that Pakistani actors were being asked to leave the country. Since ours was a small film, it didn’t affect us. We had shot her portions by then. Some time passed and the noise about banning Pakistani actors died down. So by the time of the release, she wasn’t a prime target.

Play
Suit Suit from Hindi Medium (2017).

‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ was criticised for mansplaining – the narrative centred on the hero’s point of view and the woman’s voice was missing. Have you balanced this out in ‘Hindi Medium’?
See, I understand that criticism but I don’t think of it like that. One must understand the perspective when we are writing a script if we want to take a certain approach to a story. Even accepting that I chose to tell a story from a particular person’s point of view is what ultimately should be acknowledged.

Hindi Medium is a totally different set-up. It’s not about a sparring couple, but a family of three and a busy world around them, where everyone is equally important and clearly heard. It is about the privilege of class and position in society and also about this well-to-do couple who have no clue about how the poor survive and how they learn about things beyond their cushioned lives.

Your debut ‘Pyaar Ke Side Effects’ was in 2006 and its follow-up was after an eight-year gap. Does it take so long to move from one film to the next, especially if the first one is a big hit?
I know. The script got delayed and getting an actor on board took time. But since I am financially sound, I can afford to go slow. I am not interested in churning films every year.

You don’t want to be like Woody Allen, who has a film out every year?
I did grow up thinking I want to be a great director like him, but I don’t think I have his talents.

Saket Chaudhary.
Saket Chaudhary.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.