If you first don’t succeed -try again

If you first don’t succeed – try again. These were the famous words of Robert Bruce, the Scottish king who when in exile, noticed a spider try again and again, till it succeeded. This very much sums up the theme of the film 12th Fail directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

If you first don’t succeed -try again

Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Photo:Instagram)

If you first don’t succeed – try again. These were the famous words of Robert Bruce, the Scottish king who when in exile, noticed a spider try again and again, till it succeeded. This very much sums up the theme of the film 12th Fail directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

The film meets all the tried and tested parametres of the underdog’s victory in a cruel world, especially in India, where the education system is anything but desirable. An alumnus of Film & Television Institute of India, Vinod Chopra is a serious student of cinema. And he brings back the magic of filmmaking with his latest film 12th Fail. He earlier made strong statements against violence, the Freedom Movement, Kashmir, corruption in society through films he directed such as Parinda, 1942 – a Love Story, Shikara and later in the films he produced, like the Munnabhai series.

In 3 Idiots, his director Raju Hirani too explored the question of education whereby creativity versus the stress of rote learning was examined. Chopra’s latest film looks at the country’s hinterland not through bullets but through the prism of education. Every year, millions of Indians arrive at towns and cities from the smaller towns and villages to crack the public service entrance examinations so that they can rise above their station in life.


The preparations, the coaching and the empty belly grind can turn any normal person insane. But once successful, the youngster from a lower middle or middle class family helps the family rise from the ignominy of poverty and shame.

The only difference from the post independence scene and now is that women too are playing this single-handed saviour role. Another subtle point Chopra makes is that there are powers to be that gains from keeping the common man uneducated and thereby ignorant. The principal of the village school asks the honest police officer while advocating that cheating be allowed for the students to pass their 12th class examination, would anyone here make the cut for an IIT? So why bother.

Sharma did not cheat and that is why he failed. Chopra also pays a tribute to the maestro Satyajit Ray’s triptych of Pather Panchali, Apur Sansar and Aparajito, which were not about glorifying poverty, but holding aloft the unvanquished spirit. At least the title track composed by Shantanu Moitra is definitely a throwback to the melancholic and bucolic dhun composed by none other than Ravi Shankar in Pather Panchali.

The film released October end, has been doing rather well because when you are down and out, there is always that restart button. It is not always easy but always worth a try. No one who starts out really knows what is awaiting him at the end. Another important factor shines through and that motivation is so important as well. It can come through various agencies – sacrifices made by family members, a good friend, a mentor, a failed coach, and a life partner who understands.

Distributed by Zee Studios and produced under the VCF banner, the story is based on the eponymous novel by Anurag Pathak about the real-life story of Manoj Kumar Sharma, the guy from Chambal who defied extreme poverty to qualify for the IPS. Apart from Vikrant Massey who has perhaps given one of the best performances of his career yet, the rest of the cast are not well-known.

Priyanshu Chatterjee as a honest police chief delivers a nice cameo. Medha Shankar is Shraddha Joshi, who becomes Manoj Sharma’s wife, cracks the UPSC examination herself. She is the typical soft and graceful young woman of the mountains; the abiding sweet and innocent image of women that Chopra maintains in the films from his stable.

Finally, the heart-warming message is that in India, to the vast majority it is not always about the money but higher education that brings prestige, dignity and pride to the family. In an exclusive phone interview to The Statesman, VIdhu Vinod Chopra talks about the film, his own motivations and his admiration for Satyajit Ray.

Q 1) Your film looks at the hinterland – the badlands – but without the guns and without being preachy?

A. Your question reminds me of what Dhritiman Chatterjee has tweeted after watching the film. His tweet: “To evoke emotion without getting sentimental to evoke optimism without sounding preachy.” From an actor of his calibre and who has worked with the best directors, I’m truly humbled when hetells me to take a bow.

Q 2 ) One notices some good old cinematic techniques like dissolves, fade in & out not seen much these days. Your reasons for these?

A. I have set my film in 1997 so I wanted to capture that period, not the modern one. I have also used wide angles in the camerawork. My stories dictate the style. If you see Pather Panchali was shot differently from Ray’s other films…Apur Sansar, later Pratidwandi.

Q 3) Your tribute to Ray or Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhya’s story of success as in discovery of oneself and in overcoming odds is palpable in the film. Your thoughts?

A. Of course it is a tribute! The music by Shantanu Moitra endorses that. I wanted simple strains in the title track by using only three instruments – the flute, the sitar and the sarod. Of course, only these three instruments were used by Pandit Ravi Shankar because of monetary constraints but I wanted to recreate that simplicity and we went great lengths in achieving it.

Q 4) You have also used only one known name Massey in the film. Was this a risk, a deliberate move? A. Even Vikrant Massey is not a star. Again why do Ray’s actors still remain in our memory? Simply because they were actors and not stars playing real people. Stars can play real people but it is not the same.

Q 5) Finally what has been your transition as a filmmaker. You are successful but would you say we should be like Robert Bruce in the face of defeat – don’t give up but restart as Swanand Kirkire’s lyrics tells us?

A. Absolutely! My films are always about hope. And I will always entertain by making films that have a message. The writer is a senior journalist who first interviewed the director in 1989 when Parinda was released