Bollywood as a movie-making industry, tends to accentuate the dramatization of events for mining emotional capital. It’s a practice that even some of India’s best films have fallen prey to. But amid all the exaggeration, gems do tend to crawl out, some moderately so, others inspiring. Super 30 is a shining example of a film that, despite conceding to some of the industry’s maligned filmmaking practices, manages to emerge as a flying success and an emotional ride that completely immerses you in the story it’s trying to tell.
I guess I jumped a few steps ahead so let’s take a step or two back. Biopics are the new flavor of the season and Super 30 is no different. Based on the life of mathematician Anand Kumar hailing from Bihar, India, it tells the story of the odds faught by Kumar to launch and sustain his Super 30 project, a tiny coaching institute born within the confines of his dingy rural setup. Every year, he selects and trains a group of 30 students to crack IIT’s extremely competitive Joint Entrance Exam (JEE), effectively changing lives for good. The film details his struggles in getting to the final outcome, some real, others fictionalized.
Real-life events hit the hardest when they’re portrayed as close to reality as possible. Often, the best way to convey the extraordinary is by underplaying it, letting audiences absorb and imagine the impact themselves. And yet, at the other end, a certain section of the audience needs things explicitly explained, at times with overtly loud music. Without giving much of the film away, Super 30 sways in both directions despite refusing to bow down to entirely cliche standards. The events in the climactic showdown seem almost completely fictionalized, as is the entire Holi sequence. At the other end, events at the beginning play out naturally, especially Hrithik’s Anand seeking funds from Bihar’s education minister for higher education and the resulting dejection he faces.
A lot of Super 30‘s production values are commendable, even impeccable. The recreation of small town Patna on sets looks convincing, as does Anay Goswami’s cinematography which is mostly effective but sporadically poetic. Super 30 runs a bit longer at 155 minutes but it’s so effectively written and tightly drawn out that you’re barely able to take your eyes off for a second. This is a combination of Sanjeev Dutta’s spectacular writing (minus some of the climactic bits) and Sreekar Prasad’s editing, which lets scenes play out longer just to let the emotional moments resonate. The first half seems especially packed with stuff and by the time it’s done, you’re amazed at how much material they were able to pack in the space of 75 minutes. A few long takes here and there sell you further on the film’s astonishingly strong performances.
Which brings us to Super 30‘s most valuable asset. The supporting cast deliver great acts, particularly Pankaj Tripathi who is part hilarious, part freaky as the corrupt minister, and CID’s Aditya Srivastava who gets an incredibly mature role to play even if it turns somewhat one-note at times. Amit Sadh is a nice surprise, and the kids are especially competent in looking and behaving the part. But it’s Hrithik Roshan who transforms so convincingly into Anand Kumar that you forget you’re seeing a Greek God on screen. His metamorphosis from his hair, outfits as well as his Bihari dialect and tan (both criticised unfairly online) help sell him as a math obsessed Bihari who wants nothing more than knowledge. Channeling his excellent form from Lakshya, Hrithik delivers dejection and delight through his eyes, at times depicting a beaten man with nothing more than a downward glance that crushes your inner spirit, making his eventual victory that much sweeter.
Which is why, it’s that much more crushing to see the film meted out with such harsh criticism online. I guess being professional critics, their points are a lot more valid than mine but I fail to see reason to pull down the movie’s score to such an extent. Yes, it manipulates you emotionally because that’s what all films do: they play around with your emotions precisely to make you feel the right one. Yes, some bits are dramatized, because the movie needs to be seen by audiences across the country as much as devored by the sophisticated crowd. Yes, the background score does get a bit loud and repetitive at times, but that’s an issue plaguing some of the finest movies to come out, including the recently released Article 15 (where it was ironically praised). Yes there are issues with the movie and it’s not perfect but writing, direction, performances and Anand Kumar’s character immerse you to an extent that you ponder over these issues after the screening, not during.
This is of course not to say Super 30 is a flawless portrait. As pointed out, some of the struggles Anand Kumar faced have been grossly exaggerated for melodramatic purposes. Some facts have been omitted to add to the narrative fat, including the real way Kumar funded his Super 30 class. Even the kids, as endearing of performances as they give, don’t have fully fleshed out personalities, though I suppose that’s part of the point: keeping them mostly devoid so they can be substituted for the masses upon masses of 30s that Kumar trained. And the entire love angle seems forced, just as it does in most films of this nature.
That definitely doesn’t discount the good bits highlighted above. And more so, one of the film’s strongest bits is the commentary it offers on the education system and the mafia that governs the entire coaching business. There’s strong motivation in seeing Anand Kumar’s Super 30 shut down, merely because it’s success would spurn more such clones and hamper, or potentially throw into question, the exhorbitant fees charged by these lavish institutes who have turned education from a birthright into a money-making machine. Issues like casteism and opportunity plague the poor class and those bits hit really hard. In a particularly depressing bite, Roshan’s Kumar points out to a child that he died the day he was born poor.
By all accounts, Super 30 is an enormously inspiring story of a man who braved all odds, fighting tragedy financial poverty, attacks and even near-death to deliver one of the noblest services needed in the world: teaching. His drive to impart knowledge made him a shining beacon of inspiration across the globe which, sadly didn’t take much notice until a New York Times article put him in the spotlight. By playing him the way he did, all de-glam, Hrithik Roshan gets the most important aspect of Super 30 right, for failure in getting Anand Kumar right would’ve crumbled the movie. Fortunately, as pointed out, Roshan uses every trick in his arsenal, and some more cultivated by spending a year prepping as the character, to come up with something that’s incredibly special, rewarding and at times, poignant. It’s a tragic victory, and the fact that this gem of a film is fighting criticism online much like Anand Kumar himself dodged naysayers of his idea is a strange irony of life imitating art in the most baffling of ways.
In summary then, Super 30 is an outstanding watch that deserves to be made tax free (and in all likelihood, Super 30 will be tax free eventually). And for his performance as Anand Kumar, Hrithik Roshan deserves all the laurels and accolades he can get. If you can ignore critics and sidestep them for this one movie, you totally should. Do not miss.