Film: Super 30
Director: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Mrunal Thakur, Virendra Saxena, Pankaj Tripathi, Aditya Shrivastava, Amit Sadh
Super 30 is an important moment in the resurging socially realistic Hindi cinema. After Anubhav Sinha’s successful outing with the recent release Article 15, the Hrithik Roshan starrer tried to take the caste-class issue to another level.
If Article 15 explored caste relations, Super 30 tried to address the class debate. Set in Patna (Bihar), the film tells the story of a genius mathematician —Anand Kumar, played by Hrithik Roshan — who undertakes a free coaching program for underprivileged students who wish to study at IITs and become something ‘scientific’ in their life.
Despite following the traditional dramatic arch (of the hero’s rise, fall and further rise following the anagnorisis) in a genre of this kind, the film had something to say in a different tone a few times.
Challenging the vedic-puranic given that “Raja Ka Beta Raja hi Banega” trope, the film drew heavily from Mahabharat, both in terms of suggestive imagery and dialogue for further exposition, although metaphors and symbolism gets mixed up.
If a rickshawallah becomes the voice of reason or consciousness that calls out Hrithik (Anand) from his apparent moral decadence into the business of education, that scene in the tunnel is suggestive of Krishna and Arjuna sequence in the chariot (where the Bhagavad Gita is recited).
Apart from that, the dialogue that stated Dhronacharya did not want Eklavya (who did not belong to the ruling class of that time Kshatriya) to rise, therefore got his thumb cut so that there can only be one Arjuna, spoken by the chariot-rickshaw driver, resonates throughout the film.
The dichotomy of class barrier and how deeply they are entrenched are further explored when Anand quits his lucrative job at the Excellence Coaching Academy to start a centre of his own, where merit speaks above anything else.
In the first half of the film, Hrithik shines in varying scenes. On the announcement that his father Ishwar (played by Virendra Saxena) makes regarding Anand’s acceptance into Cambridge, and the climax of the film — scenes with immense emotional depth, drama usually followed by some form of catharsis — are played really well by the actor.
The other, normal and on the track parts are where the actor slacks pace in terms of portraying his character differently. He sticks to the Bihari dialect for most of the film, missing it here and there in moments of dramatic energy.
Mrunal Thakur’s character arch could have been explored further, but the role of actresses in hero-centric movies has become quite a norm. Perhaps, the argument of following the true story can be made, but even then it is a reality that has been naturalized collectively, consciously or unconsciously.
When Aditya Shrivastava is introduced, for a moment there is an expectation that he is in his Gulaal mode; though, only more tempered down and nuanced, after all “adhyapak hai”. His performance is commendable.
Pankaj Tripathi plays the Shiksha-Mantri with the attitude of the education-entitled-mafia with ease. He does whatever bit different he could with his role, especially in parts where instead of the regular anger expression, he falls short of words and instead makes faces of a kind that reveal everything. A small change in just this matter made a huge difference to his performance.
Nandish Singh, who played Anand Kumar’s brother, was mostly understated and yet made his presence felt in scenes which were on their way to achieve something.
Virendra Saxena and his good-old-encouraging father figure is a role that audiences have seen him many times, despite that, he refuses to not impress with minor subtleties here and there.
A special mention also goes to Amit Sadh, who lent a rather rebellious-Hemingway-Hunter S Thompson-kind-gonzo-journalism-feels apart from also being an observer on the fringes of the society who naturally in the world of bad news sought to make a change with an inspiring text of good news (embodied in and by Anand Kumar).
The production design of the film is well researched. Dropping hints here and there with good use of background and foreground objects, sometimes over the top, blend will the setup and narrative. In that regard, the color card and shade of warm overtones also fit well with the setting of the film.
Just when the first half is about to close for interval, two climaxes are reached. One, with the father sequence on cycle that literally ends Anand’s dreams and the other, with the children crossing insurmountable barriers to reach Patna to study.
The father sequence in the rain and cycle is beautifully shot and despite the knowingness of what is to happen, the tension is so well held; it really is praiseworthy. The warm colour of yellow-brown changes to blue-black and rainy every time something bad/sad is about to happen. After this episode, the look on Anand’s face and the instant zoom out from above, showed the hapless state of individuals when destiny strikes the chord, and how class, money and caste are connected.
There is not much talk, but the moment in itself spoke volumes. It was simple and yet so beautiful.
The second climax or rather the building of the dramatic moment when the children travel to Patna after overcoming serious odds, was rather overbearing and perhaps, it was meant to be; but the distance the camera was maintaining all this while, disappeared completely after this scene. The struggles of the journey of children was no longer theirs; the makers were with them throughout.
Even that scene — that the Empire-writes-back narrative trope stamped all over it — with Hrithik instilling confidence in the students just when the film closes for interval was not well established and didn’t leave a mark at all.
What did leave a mark in fact, was the use of a microscopic cosmos, a simple classroom scenario to explore and highlight real class divisions. This scene where privileged and underprivileged students are to sit together for a exam; and the unease of clothes, shampooed hair, inability to speak and understand English, sharing seats with people whose house’s trash one section has cleaned all their lives, bringing forth the divide that was so deeply entrenched onto the minds of the latter, is exposited so well.
This scene, was by far, the most emphatic and important one. It tried to explore the class-based divide furthered by the cause of knowing the language of the rich – English.
The makers tried to answer the question through the Holi scene (Hindi Bhasha promotion), where in fact it is established that merit speaks above all, and if one is meritorious, the divide falls flat.
In fact, towards the middle of the second half, the question that is ringing all through is taken up. In a question that a rich kid asks Anand, “Hum Ameer Hai Toh Humara Kya Galti Hai?” is answered if not completely at that moment, is explored in the Holi scene that has the “Basanti No Dance” track.
If merit bridges the divide between the rich and the poor in the Holi scene as far as the kids are concerned, the elders still have their turn to learn the lesson, which they never do even towards the end of the film. And, thankfully, the film did not try to resolve everything from that angle.
There are certain scenes in the film, especially highlighted with the soundtrack that have the Koi Mil Gaya feels, but some are literal-manifestations of the correct syncretism of music and cinematography to achieve the desired end.
Super 30 tries to touch up on concerns in the post-colonial setup of education, politics, caste and class. Despite being a character-driven text, there are also moments when circumstances overpower or destiny makes an entrance to further dramatize the film. In all, it is a film that tried to take up a lot of issues, by resolving some and leaving others to be; but what struck most was the simplicity of the text. An advantage in that regard, because that which felt simple, revealed layers and sub-layers while at the same time, exposed the problematics of the text.
And despite feeling bad for most part, for being born into the privileged (the definition is obviously different for everyone) setup of a family, one couldn’t help but think of the maker of the film.
After philosophical schools of thought established and challenged the artists’ connection to the text they produce in the last two centuries, the debate surrounding the autonomy of a work of art has never found closure. The branches of criticism from formalism and structuralism to post-modernism have further diversified and widened.
In the current scenario, where prominent auteur filmmakers from across the world have been accused of sexual harassment in the wake of the MeToo movement, it becomes difficult to judge a work of art per se.
Despite being an autonomous work in itself, audiences around the world find themselves divided over their fandom for the directors whose works they once loved and their moral stand in judging the artist who produced it. So much so, that some have been boycotted by the film industries while others continue to flourish and make art as usual.
Should one see the work of such artists in the first place, and if one does, where do you draw the line on objectivity and admiration?
Vikas Bahl was accused of sexual harassment by a former Phantom Films employee, who alleged that the filmmaker-producer (who was part of Phantom) assaulted her during the promotional tours of Bombay Velvet ( 2015).
This year, an internal complaints committee constituted by Reliance Entertainment that has co-produced Super 30, cleared Bahl of the said charges when the complainant refused to appear before the committee after repeated summons.