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.

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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.

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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.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.