First of all, we are inundated with biopics. In a country as large as India, there are bound to be bad boys and good boys. The idea is simple – polish the bad apples, as in ’Sanju’, and squeeze the good ones for juice, even if there isn’t much. The recent glut of movies on interesting people, including many who are still relatively young like Anand Kumar, and who are yet to complete their life’s work, is indicative of a profound crisis of creative writing in Hindi cinema. Clearly, there is a drought on good fiction, and so film writers and makers want to pick up readymade, nylon shirts and pants, that just need tailoring adjustments, instead of going through the hard work and original thinking involved in writing and designing movies that come from their own heads.
Kumar is a mathematician from Bihar who set up a coaching institute for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in Patna called ’Super 30’, and got most, if not all of them, to successfully crack the IIT Exam. In the context of the money driven private education businesses flourishing in Bihar and elsewhere, this is a wonderful achievement, and it takes a man with inherent nobility and deep social consciousness to re-connect with his own less than privileged background, and work on providing opportunities to such promising students for free.
But Anand is just 46 years old, and though he has figured out how to work the entrance system for such exams since 2002; passing one does not signify academic excellence in the sciences. The film’s research and script tells us nothing about what his students have done since getting into IIT. Did they thrive at the Institutes, did they come up with outstanding scientific work and go on to contribute to academics or industry?
And what about Anand himself? The opening of the film shows Anand (Hrithik Roshan) as a mathematician of promise, having published papers on number theory in international journals. What has happened to that aspect of his life? All these questions are dropped like hot potatoes, so that the movie can go full throttle for the emotional jugular of the caste system, and can tell you a story like ‘Lagaan’, in which the ruling classes are challenged for their assumed privileges – in an ‘exam match’.
The casting director has done his auditioning well, and the faces of the chosen 30 look appropriately etched with deprivation. The make-up specialist has made Hrithik Roshan look less of a film star by changing his skin tone to khaki. But the light eyes are left intact, and they persist in shining through the muck on his face. With his less than perfect Bihari accent, and by his wearing of the same hang-dog expression right through the film, Hrithik does not exactly set the screen on fire as Anand Kumar.
Only one scene in the film touches a raw nerve. This is when Anand’s kids sit together in a classroom with students from an expensive coaching institute, for a competitive test. They fare poorly, and when Anand asks them why, they say that they were psychologically numbed by their wealthy fellow students who, till recently, were their masters; in whose homes they were servants or maids or drivers. The sense of being trapped, yet again, in a class/caste system, momentarily gave them an inferiority complex, and jinxed their answers in the test. It is a poignant explanation, and the scene is done well.
But essentially, this is a premature biopic, made before the subject has completed his life’s work, and before a true assessment of Anand’s contribution to education can be evaluated. But such is the hurry to find material with a heroic, or even an elevating content, that national and international recognition through newspapers and awards, seems enough to produce a melodramatic movie, full of cliches, on the man’s trials and tribulations.
With few twists and turns, ‘Super 30’ ends up as a boring film on a righteous, virtuous and honourable man.