SUPER 30 : PERFECT PLOT IMPERFECT IMPLEMENTATION

The film’s camera work is just about ordinary and most scenes are shot on frontal angles with static positions. The music doesn’t leave much impression.

Written by August 24, 2019 10:43

Varun Bahl directed film namely Super 30 barely missed bagging the bragging rights for being branded as a superb film. Regrettably, it would now remain as a fine film specimen, of a failed attempt to formulate a false finality, a la a typical formulaic Bollywood film, to a realistic story that sought to solve real world solutions.

Whether deliberate or otherwise, after intermission, the film’s content and treatment undergoes a volte-face transformation; seems the director himself didn’t like direction film was taking. (hope the film wasn’t ghost directed after director’s dalliance with Metoo campaign).

Film’s first half has a fantastic ‘real’ feel in endless elements: archetypically of millions of Indians, it’s a tale of a real-life existential struggles, of a mathematical genius, who couldn’t proverbially cross prohibitive provincial and poverty limitations to achieve a breakthrough. But achieves prosperity, yet in a moment of reckoning and redemption, resolves to help the hapless and hopeless to breakthrough and break boundaries; it is an exemplary motivational tale of a man overcoming all odds and rise phoenix like to achieve international stardom and still choosing to remain rooted and work at grassroots to change people’s lives ; is a realistic depiction of declining teaching and learning standards in secondary school education, that requires private coaching for having any realistic chance of studying in prestigious IITs; it is a tale of changing social class through education and courageous battle to help helpless to break from centuries old vicious cycles of poverty ; it depicts the political class’s protection and patronage powering proliferation of private coaching classes all across the countryside ; it alludes metaphorically to parallel education edifice to State one that produces wealth for parallel economy and political class- system perfected to perpetuate status quo.

As stated, film’s first half has a superbly scripted storyline sequentially rolling out in sync. But in latter half, it regresses and resorts to all regular clichés of commercial cinema coming together viz. gangsters ganging up in retribution, intimidation, contract killings (recalling memories of ‘rangdari raj’), outsmarting moves a la formula movie, fire firebombs, guns galore et al.

Director deploys Taare Zamin Par’s ploy of adding animation to real life shots. Unfortunately, the effort comes a cropper , as on one hand the film skips sequential continuity to explain application of scientific principles to students’ moves to outwit the street gangsters, yet on the other, it chooses to depict assault and attack in a typical filmy style street brawl. This is evident in a rather farfetched imagination of staging a naxal type attack that is thwarted by a rag tag coaching class and the State and police totally absent. The audience is unable to reconcile the apparent inconsistencies in conjunction of familiar formulaic depiction of fist/gun fights, fought on guts on gumption, with unfamiliar contest based on calculation, calculus and clarification. Per force, film has to resort to explanatory going back and forth clarificatory foot notes , frequently breaking the tempo.

Comparing Super 30 with Anubhav Sinha’s films -namely Mulk and Article 15- would add clarity. Both films fall under social realism genre which gave films like Manthan, Ankur, Nishant, Ardh Satya during last four decades; their storylines were either directly derived or inspired from real life events, if not their direct depiction of real instances.

Super 30 had greater relative advantage depicting a true story with all imaginable dramatic turns and twists thrown in ample measure. It had: an inspirational life changing content to cause easy identification amongst all crowds ; an archetypical ordinary individual’s super heroic efforts to overcome all imaginable odds and shake up social slumber to bring social change ; a universal story involving both individual and society’s struggle, symbolizing metaphors of hope vs hopelessness; individual redemption by choosing to become a voice for the voiceless, excluded and downtrodden, without any hope of succeeding ; universal motif of oppressive opprobrium and all round opposition to attempt anything novel ; story of a monumental courage ( David vs Goliath, motif also symbolized in recent film Kesari too) to stand up singly against the flow , stand up in Messiah-mode against four millennia old status quoist socio- cultural currents; a la Elia Kazan’s cult film ‘On The Waterfront’ showing motifs of anti-hero metamorphosing into a superhero savior, salvaging suffering folks ; time tested motif of rags to not only riches but also international renown ( Delhi govt. recently requested real life Hrithik – Anand Kumar- to teach IIT-JEE aspirants).

One rarely comes across a script that is suffused with so many metaphors. Director possibly sensed this but ended up seeing final product with a typical formulaic vision. Thus, one can’t but rue the missed chance of converting these countless, credible components into a class cine act.

Actually, for the first time Bollywood brand of cinema, confronted with challenging onslaught from film streaming, is forced to bring quality fare not only on the cine/TV screen but also on mobile screens (Netflix, Hotstar). This 24×7 exposure is increasingly making audience quality conscious (series such as Game of Thrones, Sacred Games, Mirzapur, Leila). This decade, usual formula films containing repetitive storylines, with glamour gloss added for effect and having some vague semblance to reality, have been failing to find footfalls (even King Khan films are falling in seriatim). This trend shows that some measure of connect, even if remote, is required for cine crowd to find familiar identification. This explains unexpected bombing at box office of formula films like Thugs of Hindostan despite double superstars’ appeal of Amitabh and Aamir. The change in audiences’ taste explains why films like Mulk and Article 15, with oblique reference to realism have, found surprising commercial successes.

Thankfully, these days even megastars are embracing ‘method acting’ methods to pack power-punch to their performances to obtain real effect. Hrithik Roshan, Bollywood hot-bod Adonis, has made a serious de-glam attempt by wearing countryside sun burnt bronze look (a la Vivek Oberoi famously did in his first film Company) and tousled hair. Not only that, he apparently left his famed exercise regimen to shrivel up those sinewy forearms and loosen taut torso to lend credence to his character. But its scene stealing performances of Pankaj Tripathi and Aditya Srivastava as Devraj Jagan Safdarjung and Lallan Singh respectively . Pankaj Tripathi as a politician is simply outstanding in arousing regret and repulsion; and his subdued expression of suppressed rage and mouthing platitudes to solve peoples’ problems reminds one of great character actors like Sanjeev Kumar. Aditya Srivastava, as teaching academy lord, gives a terrific performance ; his mannerisms, dialogue delivery, attire , accessories (jewellery, gold, watch including Contessa) immediately connect to countryside coaching entrepreneurs in real life . Virendra Saxena as protagonist’s father is wonderfully natural and endearing -reminding us of felicity with which Motilal used to enact his roles. Hrithik’s mother brings out the quintessential Indian maternal motif in limited frames meant for her. Film’s stretched storyline in second half is somewhat saved by their performances. Mrunal Thakur as love interest Supriya has very limited screen time.

And after a rather stretched scene of David vs Goliathesque gung-ho gang fight scenes, director realizes to return to the original plot of making first super 30 batch pass out with flying colours. The close-up shot of Hrithik folding up in flood of tears in that scene is fine. The film instead of ending with a motivational exhortation to emulate the example, by each having potential of being a catalyst to change the countryside, unfortunately, ends abruptly after a long winding battle that wears down audience’s patience.

Film realism feel comes from abundant allusions to real-life higher education scenario of India ; unplanned pursuit of privatizing engineering education leading to 68% unemployable graduates though miniscule percentage ( about fourteen thousand from IITs) realizing dream life and destination ; Rajasthan heat and dust not deterring in making Kota a private school education hub where parents push students to pursue backbreaking schedules; apathetic indifference of administration to monitor and regulate coaching centres resembling sweat shops (22 students died recently in such centre in Surat) where students cram chapters; covert patronage of political class to de-facto privatization of public teaching that keeps cash flowing to fund black deeds and black money ; progressively declining teaching standards as teachers taking teaching merely as a govt. job and not as profession ; toughening rural existence with unviable agriculture limiting livelihood options and degree in reputed institutions becoming gateway to heaven specially for the marginalized and secluded sections; Eklavya and Navodaya residential schools in countryside becoming successful models etc. fit for emulation by original protagonist.

Film is a further expansion of India’s educational eternal linguistic schizophrenic situation that was first depicted in the film Hindi Medium. Film uses abiding popular public memory of cult film Sholay to depict dichotomous duality of using Hindi and English as medium of instruction and this duality perpetuating itself in job market and real life. That prolonged song sequence( Basanti No Dance) seems rather labored and lacks punch in producing the sentimental support of the students of Super 30.

The role of school education, in transforming lives of disadvantaged individuals and groups, has been depicted in several Hollywood films like To Sir With Love, Precious, Good Will Hunting, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers etc. However, all films depict success obtained by a teacher trying alternate teaching methods within the school context to seek stupendous results. Documentary film Waiting For Superman was a critique of American public and private schools. In content similarity, the film Stand And Deliver (1988) comes quite close to Super 30 in depicting a math teacher changing students’ lives. None of the films come close to Super 30 in attempting parallel teaching methods outside the regular school systems to enable poor get admissions into Ivy league colleges.

Film’s costume director and set designer deserve praise as interiors and objects in protagonist’s house, post office, two coaching centres, living street etc. come across as quite realistic. ( set recreating Patna city was reportedly constructed in Mumbai for shooting at cost of Rs ten lakhs) . In fact, the clothes donned by whole of protagonist’s family click rather well with the struggling middle-class family background of a small town. The way clothes are hung, food is eaten sitting, cross-legged with chowki on ground , dilapidated walls and old furniture all add to the real feel. The post office is perfectly depicted specially in dilapidated building, iron and wooden enclosures, furniture, uniform and that ubiquitous accessory – the bicycle. The ubiquitous gamcha on shoulders also brings out the essential eastern India flavour of dust and sweat. The village scene of a pond, dusty roads and cycle rickshaw with loudspeakers is also effectively created.

Though Hrithik’s Bihari accent is tolerable, the lingo has flavor of a typical Bhojpuri dialect, specially in dialogues mouthed by postal office staff, restaurant owner, gang lord in jail etc.

The film’s camera work is just about ordinary and most scenes are shot on frontal angles with static positions. The music doesn’t leave much impression.

The duo – Sajid Nadiadwala and Vikas Bahl- deep rooted moorings in pure entertainment genre may have prevented their shrugging of the formula film’s format and content altogether. Possibly, they wanted critical acclaim as well as commercial success at the same time and that is a difficult ambition for first timers trying serious stuff. And they missed the basic lesson of successful commercial cinema- of including good hummable songs and music. Maybe the mixed motive to make a realism cinema with commercial tools led to failed attempt to stand on two stools. Film comes across as two jointed films each different from the other. It had a wonderful story and had support of great actors yet the treatment fails to integrate all elements into a beautiful whole. One can say that film comes out as a product whose whole is weaker than the sum of its parts. Instead of being a super film, Super 30 turns out to be a super let down.