The film from Vidhu Vinod Chopra is completely different from anything you associate with him and the cinema he backs. For one who has earned a niche space within mainstream cinema, 12th Fail will give a space of respect in the archive. Even his commercial films were well planned and executed. This outing requires definite mention with a degree of awe.
There is a problem with good cinema in India. Its marketing is pathetic. Films well made depend on word of mouth. Good words take time to spread, and the time consumed is disproportionate to the patience of those who dictate the mechanics of the theatre. We suffered for a while with delusion that the multiplex has changed it all: Those who control the distribution and exhibiting mechanism have long hands and deeper self-interest. There is no discernible reason for the film being literally smuggled into the theatres and with zero production.
The trials and tribulations of a poor student Manoj (Vikrant Massey) from Bilgaon in Chambal and the near magical route to becoming an IPS Officer is this inspirational saga. He comes from a lower middle-class family where his dad is fighting his legal battles, his mom, and siblings’ lives. With him things are comparatively simple till the local Inspector Dushyant (Priyanshu Chatterjee) bans mass copying. However, the incident leaves him inspired and at the next attempt, he takes the examination honestly. Dad Ranveer (Harish Khanna) and Mom (Geeta Aggarwal) find the tides in Chambal tough. Grandma (the talented Sarita Joshi) is the tough nut who brooks no nonsense and imbibes the fighting spirit in the family.
Inspired by Inspector Dushyant and idealistically committed to establishing a corrupt free society, Manoj moves to Gwalior and from there to Delhi. At Gwalior he meets up with Pritam Pandey (Anant Vijay Joshi) – an IAS aspirant whose priorities are based on what his affluent dad back home can afford. Robbed of all the cash he is carrying, but pepped up with idealism and self-respect, thus Hindi medium 12th Fail, embarks on his date with destiny.
The challenges are real and aplenty. For a boy from the backyard thrown by the currents of life, to the happening Capital is a gravity shift. The miss and hit game, has more of the former. Like Super 30, institutional props for individual aspirations are seen as structural inspirations. So naïve and realistically so in Manoj that he is blissfully unaware of the administrative system.
The film makers take recourse to regular ploys including romance when he runs into yet another aspirant who aims at State Services: Shraddha Joshi (Medha Shankar). She inspires Manoj who is willing to attempt the impossible at her instance. The long and tedious trek from the villager who failed to the one who bites what he does not know to chew takes the viewer through a India of aspirations and disappointments; vertical and systemic props, idealism and corruption. Fortunately, Vidhu Vinod steers clear of getting on the pulpit and sticks to a simple narrative that within the celluloid framework of Bollywood works an honest script.
The moments of failure leave you empathising and sometimes even an involuntary tear escapes as Manoj fights hard. This is not Bimal Da and Do Bheega Zameen. It is nonetheless, an honest reflect on the tribulations of the underdog. Not over dramatic, yet dramatic enough to keep you engaged and involved at all points in time, it engages you, sometimes chokes your emotion and surely inspires.
The characters are realistic and not larger than life. Anshumaan Pushkar as Gauri Bhaiya – the picture of failure and Sam Mohan as Deep Mohan, the English-speaking successful IAS Officer, tell limited stories effectively. Anant Vijay Joshi as the friend who shares the dream half-heartedly is noteworthy. Geeta Agarwal as the suffering lady is at once the Nirupa Roy of old and a new age fighter. Her dialogue delivery adds volumes of pathos to the saga of suffering. Harish Khanna fails to leave an impact in a role that could have translated into a fine cameo. Medha Shankar as the female lead tries hard, but not enough.
Based on a novel by Anurag Pathak, the film’s credibility goes up a few notches thanks to the crew. Cinematographer Rangarajan Ramabadran takes you from the scenic Chambal to the cramped Delhi with great professional ease. Special mention must be made of how he handles the flour mill and the Delhi Street. Hemant Wagh’s Art Direction is picture perfect. The entire Sound Department needs special mention. Jaskunwar Kohli joins Vidhu Vinod in editing the product to a keen narrative.
The film truly belongs to Vidhu Vinod Chopra. It is difficult to assess how well he has adapted Anurag Pathak for the simple reason that the work has not been read by many of us, me included. For a filmmaker known for making films ranging from the Munna Bhai film series, 3 Idiots, 1942 Love Story, Mission Kashmir, this is a totally different track and will remain among his better ones. Given his filmography this is a huge say. Keep it up Vidhu Chopra. Great to see one survive the din and dust with creativity intact.
The film also belongs to Vikrant Massey, who is an actor of great calibre finally finds a film that could well have challenged him. Completely devoid of mannerisms, his body language, his hesitant pattern, his self-belief are navigated like a master. In any other cinematic space, this role would be recognised, praised, celebrated, and emulated. Here it goes unnoticed. For the good of our cinema, and for good cinema, we must pray to have him more on screen and catch Vidhu Vinod Chopra in similar mood. The film’s non-noisy performance at the box-office hopefully would not dishearten Vidhu Vinod Chopra ad Vikrant Massey. To echo the theme of their narrative one can only say: "Re start" –
Jeero se kya darna bey
Jeero ke pahiye banake
Tu aage aage badna bey
Restart, restart, restart.