A Chinese View: Why ‘Hindi Medium’ Strikes a Chord In China
Like other Bollywood movies which were introduced to China, Hindi Medium has also got good word of mouth here. The Irrfan Khan-Saba Qamar-starrer is titled 起跑线 or Qi Pao Xian in China, which means “The Starting Line”. There is an interesting connotation to this title in China, which I will come to shortly.
Maoyan, the largest Chinese online movie ticketing website, gives the movie a high rating of 9/10, and the box office collection stands at 100 million RMB merely four days after its release. It can be said that a popular wave of “Indian movies” has emerged, and that these movies are gradually changing the Chinese audience’s impression of India.
One of the comments posted on Maoyan even inquired: “Why do Indian movies reflect Chinese problems?”
Hindi Medium strikes a cultural chord with us Chinese mainly due to these factors:
• Firstly, both countries share the common value of ‘education’. An old Chinese expression goes something like - longing to see one’s son/daughter become a dragon (Wang Zi Cheng Long), which translates into expecting one’s son/daughter to have a bright future.
It is well accepted in China that education is a major way for a normal person to rise in hierarchy and make it to the upper class. In this context, Chinese parents are trying their best to send their children to good schools.
Even in the backward areas and villages, this intention prevails. Furthermore, in today’s competitive social environment, parents are aware that enrolling their children in a good junior school is the basis for moving ahead to a good middle school and then high school.
• Secondly, both countries are facing the common problems of insufficient quality educational resources and inequality of allocation of these resources. In the current Chinese society, the quality educational resources are concentrated in big cities and urban areas. Therefore, there is an intense competition among students to join these schools.
Marks are not the only measure of evaluation, other factors also influence admissions such as money, social connections, parents’ occupation, social stature, and even luck. Subsequently, education is not only relevant to children but parents also have to be involved in the process thoroughly. Education is losing its essence, descending to the level of an exchange-of-benefits business.
At the end of Hindi Medium, when the father (Irrfan Khan) attempts to report the elementary school principal’s misuse of power, the aggressive principal responds: “Where will you report this? Government? Police? Their children are all here!”
In China, people in power have access to better educational resources. The average middle-class family has to continuously struggle for this access. This is another reason why Hindi Medium is resonating with the Chinese audience.
• Thirdly, the enrolling policies also seem to be similar.
At the beginning of Hindi Medium, the parents have to move to Vasant Vihar because only the children who live in that area have the privilege to apply to the best school in the vicinity. China also has this policy of enrolment in an elementary school in accordance with the area of residence. In order to get the right to apply to a good school, Chinese parents also spend lots of money to buy or rent a house near the school.
The prices of houses in the school district are soaring in China nowadays. And this phenomenon can find its root from an old Chinese traditional idiom 孟母三迁 ( Meng Mu San Qian; literally: “Mencius’s mother, three moves”). This saying refers to the legend that Mencius’s mother moved house three times before finding a location that she felt was suitable for the child’s upbringing. In this regard, some news reports said the story of Hindi Medium can be regarded as Indian version of “Mencius’s mother, three moves”.
Evidently, there are many similarities between the two countries but there are some differences as well. In India, speaking English is a pre-requisite to belong to the upper class while in China, this symbolic correlation is weaker. The ability to speak in English merely indicates better prospects to go aboard for studies or a better shot at bagging a job in a multinational company, which in turn means a better salary. But it is not a mandatory condition for being considered an affluent person. The gap between public schools and private schools in China is smaller than in India. The facilities in public schools here are also very good. The main discrepancies are in teachers and the quality of education.
To sum it up, Hindi Medium is another good Indian film which is sincerely made and it once reflects the filmmaker’s humanistic concern and social responsibility. The most impressive part is that, at the end of the story, the father finally decides to stand up and reveal the truth even though it is at the cost of losing a seat for their child in their dream school. But no one dares to stick up for him or even applaud. This unexpected but reasonable ending is a sharp accusation about the reality, which once again wins the praise of the Chinese audience.
(Hu Xiaowen, PhD, is associate research fellow from Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences)