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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Super 30, Review: Inequality, equality and variable quality

Super 30, Review: Inequality, equality and variable quality

Two basic tenets form the paradigm of Super 30: a real-life story about a nondescript do-gooder who is a super achiever must strike a chord with audiences, and, secondly, any tale of a low caste and poverty-stricken protagonist, sacrificing his lady love and filthy lucre for the cause of educating fellow under-privileged ‘untouchables’ in his society, will have them rooting for the unlikely hero. How these doctrines pan out is what the film is all about.

As is the norm, the film only draws inspiration from the real-life character, in terms of the basic premise and key moments of drama, fictionalises it for cinematic treatment as credibly as the writer thinks he can, and adds songs, which are never part of any true-life story but have a life of their own in Hindi cinema, though the practice of lip-sync playback performed by the lead pair, either as solo or duet numbers, is all but, sadly, dead.

Patna Postman Iswar and Jayanti Devi’s son Anand is a mathematics wizard. He wins the Ramanujan Award for his acumen and is felicitated by the Education Minister of Bihar, Shreeram Singh, and a former Ramanujan Award winner, Lallan. One of his regrets is the fact that Mathematics Journals are only printed by foreign publishers and are difficult to come by. Even when they do arrive in Patna, he is unable to afford the price. Driven by his crazy passion, he travels to Varanasi, a distance of 280 kms, to the library of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), where he reads these journals and attempts to solve the theorems they carry.

On one such visit, he is spotted by an official, who guesses that he is not a student of BHU. Being a believer in the caste system, he repeatedly asks Anand his full name, to find out whether his surname conforms to upper caste suffixes. Anand merely says “Anand”, and is promptly thrown out, but not before a million dollar advice from the peon, who, most likely, belongs to Anand’s caste: “If you can get your own work printed in this journal, it will be sent to you free, for your life-time.” A motivated Anand cracks an apparently insoluble equation, and the needful is done. But Anand is not done yet. He bags admission to Cambridge University. Problem is, there isn’t enough money to send him to England.

Papa Postman does everything he can, including withdrawing his provident fund, and his mother’s jewellery is sold, yet the expenses are not met even halfway. Recalling the Education Minister’s promise for monetary help to deserving students, father and son head for his manor, where he holds a darbar. Minister being Minister, beats round the bush and has him whisked away at the end of his twenty-minute appointment. This causes immense grief to Anand’s father, who has a heart-attack, and dies, even as Anand and his brother Pranab try to rush him to hospital on his broken bicycle.

Anand resorts to selling papads (poppadum’s) to make ends meet, when he bumps into Lallan. The fellow Ramanujan Award winner now runs a coaching class and is rolling in money. He makes Anand an offer he cannot refuse, and Anand becomes Excellence Coaching Classes’ star, Anand Sir. Destined to serve his community, Anand leaves his money-spinning job and starts a group called Super 30, free of cost, with no money to fund the cost of premises, electricity and food, aimed at grooming the have-nots for entrance to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Lallan is not going to take this lying down, nor is the Education Minister, Lallan’s backer, going to let this happen under his nose.

Sanjeev Datta, whose CV includes films like Page 3, Life in a Metro and Barfi, leaves out developments like the 1992 formation of a Mathematics Club, ‘Ramanujam School of Mathematics’, by Anand, while he was still to graduate. There is no place for his mentor and guru, Devi Prasad Verma, then the Head, Department of Mathematics, Patna Science College. Pranab has a smallish role in the film, not showing doing anything particular, till he is drafted into managing the Super 30. In real-life, he was a talented violinist, performing in Mumbai, and went back to Patna to help his brother. There is strong reason to suppose that Anand’s love interest Ritu Rashmi (Strange! I cannot recall anybody addressing her by name in the film), and the escapades the two are part of, are at least partly, fictionalised.

Even without trying, the writer would have readymade references to the caste system and the rich-poor divide is inbuilt in the story. Bihar, in particular, has a high degree of discrimination against those who are born in a family that has traditionally been in the profession of iron-mongering, cobbling, sweeping/cleaning, farm-labour, domestic helps, etc. Besides this discrimination, the script brings in the rich-poor divide into even sharper focus, in the shape of Lallan, who wants to use Anand’s skills to rake in millions through an IIT coaching centre; the Minister, who wants his share of the coaching class pie; the girl’s father, who initially mocks Anand for not having enough money to go to Cambridge on account of his inherent poverty, but later accepts him as a prospective groom for his daughter, when he becomes the Star at Excellence, with a fat pay-cheque.

Rightly, some negative traits of Anand’s personality are seen as well: his refusal to allow students with inadequate resources into Excellence, where he had become an authorised signatory, his denial that he had ever signed a particular contract when he realises that Ritu has hidden it to save him from certain doom, and his conning a restaurant owner with his mathematical arguments into providing rations for his family and his 30 students.

Though they are examples of cunning and deceit, the larger interest prevails, and audiences are likely to go with such human frailties. Among other characters, Datta pens a good picture of the postman and his colleagues, and Lallan, whereas Ritu, Pranab, and the hotel owner are poorly etched, while the Minister character hovers between a self-professed Samaritan and a despotic crank. Among students, one gets to see Nos. 30 and ‘31’ (who was turned away since the class could accommodate only 30) in some depth.

In the dialogue, we find some rhetorical lines like “Adversity gives birth to invention”, alongside simplistic gems like “Rich men have paved their way and made potholes for us poor folk. But that has only led us to master the art of leap-frogging” and “A king’s son will no longer be king. Only one who is the rightful claimant will be king.” The latter two are used as sledge-hammers, though delivered casually, and repeated ad nauseum, thereby losing their worth.

Two scenes in particular stand out, as a telling examples of equality and inequality: the one in which the BHU official asks his peon to throw out Anand, who he believes to be of a lower caste and not a student of the University. Yes, the official is quite over the top, but this contrasted and counterpoised with the peon, who gives invaluable advice, sotto voce, in Anand’s ear. The second example is the scene in the hospital, where a doctor refuses to treat Anand as an emergency patient, and a medical help, usually a scheduled caste person, makes a telling observation, “Do not expect him to treat you. He is a donation doctor.” Whereas members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in India have a student seat quota reserved for them in educational institutions, the wealthy often get in by making huge donations to the institute.

Some plot points do not convince; one crucial, the other a matter of detail. Anand’s almost nonchalant sangfroid when he realises that he cannot win over his beloved’s family and his telling her to get married to a wealthy suitor does not behove the intensity of his love. Why is Anand, a genius at calculating probability and nobody’s fool, when it comes to intellect, not foresee that his whole idea of Super 30 is doomed from the beginning, and would bring nothing but misery to all involved, unless there was divine intervention, something that mathematicians discount? Why does Anand not collect cooked food from the restaurant, instead of carting rations for 33 persons for his mother to cook?

I have seen two of director Vikas Bahl (Chillar Party, Queen, Shandaar)’s three releases before Super 30. Queen, quite a rage, was over-rated, in my opinion. Shandaar was a dud, made in an unreal style. Super 30 had lots of potential but delivers only in limited measure. He chooses the right locales, like the 18th century Ramnagar Fort in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, north India, where a part was converted to look like the Super 30 decrepit, dilapidated ‘institute’. The film was also shot in Sambhar Lake Town, near Jaipur, to suggest a coaching class hub, which, in reality, is Kota, another town in Rajasthan. This was the first Hindi film that BHU allowed to be shot at its campus.

Among the things he gets wrong are the need for an item song in a bar and the never-ending song-and-dance parody performance of the children in front of Excellence. At most, one theme song and an end credits roll track would be enough. That way, even the 155 minute length would have been kept in check at a healthy 140 or so. A Minister need not give a long lecture, and abuse a coaching class operator and his minion, in order to convince him to get somebody killed, with a possibility that this amateur might botch it up—he would have his own contacts and retinue to undertake such a contract killing.

In one scene, a professional killer in a jail cell makes a phone call and threatens to kill Anand. That is last we see of the actor, Rajesh Sharma. It is hard to believe that as many as 31 children, with little or no access to books, and almost no knowledge of English, in which language most of the text is published, acquired the ability to crack the IIT exam, with just three months of training under Anand. Was the exam in Hindi? Needed explaining. Now, when it comes to the climactic confrontation between the children and a force of gun-wielding hirelings heading towards a hospital in a fleet of cars, Bahl throws logic to the winds. Whatever be the ingenuities of Anand Kumar, a badly injured Anand, hovering between life and death, cannot be expected inspire his devotees in art of war, as chronicled by Sun Tzu.

A well-chosen cast largely delivers, luckily for Vikas. Hrithik Roshan—his first release in three years--as Anand Kumar, skin toned down to identify with his caste, is pensive and reflective, with the trade-mark half smile and fragile vulnerability of eyes and face. He does not have to do much more to add this film to the list of his memorable outings. No wonder he decided to co-produce it. Mrunal Thakur (Marathi films; TV; Love Sonia) as Ritu Rashmi (Anand Kumar's lady-love) dances well and acts in a matter-of-fact style that is tragi-comic under the circumstances, yet mildly appealing. That she is the benefactor who saves Anand from definite ruin is only fitting. Virendra Saxena as Rajendra Kumar (Anand Kumar's father) makes the most of an angelic role and is thoroughly convincing, as are all his fellow workers at the post office.

Nandish Singh as Pranav Kumar is short-changed, with only two or three scenes to prove himself, which he does. Pankaj Tripathi as Education Minister Shreeram Singh cannot get over his type-casting, though he makes a valiant effort. Aditya Shrivastava as Anand’s competitor, Lallan Singh, is snide and sinister, as required, though what drives him to such villainy, other than the love of moolah, we wonder. And pray, why such stereo-typical sequences? Former lead actress Sadhna Singh is quite natural as Jayanti Devi, though Vijay Verma as the narrator, Phugga, is contrived. Strangely, the narrator, who is one of the 30, enters the script just before the halfway mark, called the intermission (break), which itself, takes ages to shape. Ali Haji (recently seen in Noblemen) as a student of Excellence, is bright and enthusiastic.

Karishma Sharma (special appearance in song ‘Paisa’) does what she is told to do: expose her body and gyrate to the rhythm. Other actors, in unidentified roles, include Manav Gohil, Amit Sadh, Deepali Gautam, Rahul Raj, Kiran Khoje, Bramhaswaroop Mishra, Pravin Singh Sisodia, Monika Panwar and Paritosh. Music by Ajay-Atul and lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya keep the milieu in view, and ‘Jughrafiya’ (Meaning Geography in Urdu) comes to us in the mellifluous voices of Udit Narayan and Shreya Ghoshal. ‘Basanti no dance’, the spoof song that sticks out like a sore thumb, has four singers. ‘Question mark’ and ‘Niyam ho’ (inspired by the climax song ‘Jai ho’ in Slumdog Millionaire?) have Bhattacharya getting into his Gulzarian mould, writing in the vein typical of old-timer lyricist Gulzar. Cinematography by Anay Goswamy encapsulates pastel shades with professional flair. Renowned editor A. Sreekar Prasad might have had to sacrifice continuity and back-stories for the sake of the director’s vision, and the length begins to tell on the viewer.

Super 30 is a saga of equality and inequality, unfolding with variable quality.

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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