More than the free and methodical coaching, director Vikas Bahl builds his film around the obstacles faced by mathematician Anand Kumar in achieving the big dream
By Mayur Lookhar
Once deemed as work of art house cinema, Bollywood, too, has woken up to its social responsibilities. Filmmakers are telling underdog stories, tales of the oppressed. Mainstream actors are no longer afraid to play humble, impoverished characters.
In the new millennium, Saif Ali Khan was perhaps the first mainstream ‘Bollywood’ actor to play a Dalit character in Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan (2011). But the larger Dalit cause, right for equality has come through Tamil film Kaala (2018) and most recently Anubhav Sinha’s much acclaimed crime thriller Article 15 (2019). Now, Greek God Hrithik Roshan has stepped into the shoes of a Dalit character. Director Vikash Bahl’s Super 30 is inspired by the life of mathematician Anand Kumar and his students.
Kumar ‘s claim to fame is Super 30 – the free educational program to 30 poor, unprivileged students to help them prepare for the entrance examinations to the prestigious IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) each year. If you are a nerd keen to know what magic does Kumar work in his Super 30 educational program, then there’s not much for you here. Vikas Bahl’s Super 30 is more about Kumar overcoming the odds to help his students achieve their big dream.
Anand Kumar [Hrithik Roshan] is a bright young man, a Gold medalist in mathematics. He solves a tough equation from an English journal, which earns him an invitation to join the prestigious Cambridge University in England. Financial woes kills those dreams. With his father Ishwar [Virendra Saxena] gone, Kumar is left to earn his daily bread by selling papadums. It takes an accident to change his life. Lallan Singh [Aditya Srivastava], his senior from Patna University, is stunned to find Kumar in this state. He offers him a coaching role at his popular Excellency coaching centre.
While his life has changed, Kumar is not comfortable with the commercialisation of education. His eyes open to the plight of the poor who simply can’t afford such expensive coaching. Kumar leaves his lucrative job to help teach 30 poor students. Lallan is not pleased and will do anything to destroy Kumar. Their conflict sets the tone for the film.
Biopics in Bollywood tend to be more on the lines of hagiography. Anand Kumar Is projected as this righteous, calm guy. Does the film glorify Kumar? Well, glorification is usually reserved for celebrated names, historical figure. Outside Bihar, Kumar still remains an unsung hero.
Director Bahl, Hrithik Roshan have had their own set of troubles, but when Kumar’ s credibility was questioned, it would not be wise to pass any judgment on the man yet.
In 2017, former Bihar cop Abhayanand had posed some tough questions to Kumar and his students. Back then , there were reports that the film’s producers are not making a biopic on Kumar but it’s a film inspired by him. There were even fears that references to Kumar would be removed, Thankfully, the makers chucked such ideas. Super 30 is a film very much based on Kumar and his students. However, we don’t recollect the term ‘Super 30 ‘ being used in the film.
Legal constrains ties one’s hands, and so director takes the safe route. But Bahl also uses creative liberty to tell the Abhayanand, sorry the Lallan Singh-Anand Kumar conflict. While there have been attempts to kill Kumar, but the drama that ensues at the hospital is a little far fetched.
There’s one thing though that viewers would be a little puzzled about. The basic eligibility to qualify for the IIT-Joint Entrance Examinations is that a candidate should be from science stream and 12 th pass.
Bahl’s students are impoverished, but there’s nothing to show that these students have cleared class 12. On the contrary, some of these students had left studies, were doing labour before the free coaching brought them to Kumar. Did writer Sanjeev Dutta and Bahl left it to assumption that these students have cleared their class 12?
Given their tough past, it is a little bizarre that on the first day of the class, some students reveal big dreams of becoming a bio tech engineer, join NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration]. For these poor souls, who struggle to get their daily bread, wouldn’t NASA, bio tech engineering would be distant dream.
In a world where there are no free lunches, a man offering free coaching would normally be met with skepticism, apprehensions. There is no such thing evident in their first class.
A predictable tale but it’s the honest efforts of Hrithik Roshan that wins you over. Who would have ever imagined Roshan playing such a character? His gorgeous looks, inherited privilege perhaps made him the most unlikely choice to play Anand Kumar.
The role came with its physical and linguistic challenges. The make-up artists have done well to give him the brown look. It’s even more amplified through the brown hues on the screen throughout the film.
A maiden Bihari character for Roshan, and the actor does a reasonable job with the dialect. He comes as natural in most parts, but there’s the odd error too. The one that goes a little haywire is when Roshan addresses the students in his first class. However, It is his sincerity, humility that helps him pass the litmus test. He’s been a super hero as Krish, but his most noble heroic act comes through as the benevolent teacher, Anand Kumar.
Mrunal Thakur impresses in her role as Supriya, Kumar’s former lover. This relationship seems more manufactured to honour formulaic compulsions. Supriya though returns in Kumar’s life at the most critical juncture.
Nandish Singh, best known for the TV show Uttaran, is almost unrecognizable as Kumar’s brother Pranav. People close to the real Pranav claimed the actor got his facial expressions bang on.
The two actors that epitomize the true Bihari spirit are Amit Sadh and Pankaj Tripathi. The former plays Raghunath, a local journalist who bails out Kumar in tough times. Sadh just nails it with his look and tone.
Pankaj Tripathi is brilliant as the cunning state education minister Shri Ram Singh. Through Singh. Bahl draws your attention to the commercialisation of education in Central India. Backed by Singh-like politician, many a private institute are minting millions in Central India.
Aditya Srivastava too is very competent as Lallan Singh. The ones to disappoint though are Kumar’s students. Save for the highly entertaining number Basanti No Dance, the young, [probably first-time] actors look out of depth.
The caste barrier has been shown in a subtle way. Raja Ke beta ab Raja nahi banega [A king’s son will not necessarily become a king too]. This one inspirational dialogue is enough to urge people break the caste barriers.
At 160 minutes, Super 30 feels a little exhaustive, especially the second half. The unnecessary melodrama in the business end drags the film down.
Save for being hailed for Super 30, there is very little known about Anand Kumar. Factual accuracy will take time. Biopics too needs its share of fiction. At the moment, it’s difficult to point the fact to fiction ratio here.
Often films set in Bihar, Central India tell tales of dacoit, violence, politics but it’s perhaps for the first time that a Bollywood film celebrates the heroics of a comman Bihari man. Given the controversies, many may still be confused Anand Kumar, but the man sure deserves respect for what’s he’s achieved so far.