The hugely inspirational, much-storied saga of Anand Kumar, the genius who cracked the most difficult thing in the world—how to crack the Joint Entrance Examination aka JEE—was always going to be a movie.
You can’t get a better hook than this: a bunch of underprivileged youngsters fighting monumental odds to enter the IIT, the most prestigious engineering college in the world, bar none. Anand’s amazing feat has everything: nature vs nurture, false entitlement vs earned merit, raja vs rank—to get into an IIT is the dream of millions, leading to an education that is literally life-changing.
Done right, it should have been a rousing, goosebumps-inducing, cheer-athon. But Super 30, called thus because of the number of students in Anand’s class, is way less than super. For several reasons: the calling out of caste is not brave enough especially when it’s clear Anand is lower-caste, the main tale is padded with unnecessary drama, and instead of sharp specifics, there’s the usual broad brush-strokey Bollywoodised treatment that suffuses the whole thing. And the throwaway moment in which a trumped-up sexual harassment charge is levelled (and dropped) against Anand is cringe-inducing, given that the film’s director has been mired in something similar.
The brown-facing of the fair-skinned Hrithik Roshan is a clear and present problem. Clearly, the only way this film would have got made was to have an A-list male star fronting it, and Roshan has had enough practice in being earnest in previous roles to carry off a part like this. But his earnestness comes off rehearsed. He’s almost always Hrithik-playing-Anand, not managing to tamp down his starriness, not because he’s not capable of it, but because the film’s insistence on making him a hero all the time. And that ‘Bihari’ accent? The less said.
I did get stirred a couple of times, and those were when the film puts Hrithik together with the young people who play his students, the ones who form the Super 30: glimpses of real gut-wrenching poverty flit past, leaving behind some of their grit. Their faces have animation, the kind a movie like this could have done much more with.
The supporting cast, specially Virendra Saxena as Anand’s supportive father, and Aditya Srivastava as the Patna-based businessman who understands just how to monetize his gold medal, is solid. As is Pankaj Tripathi as the canny neta who wants to keep his image squeaky clean. Mrunal Thakur, as Hrithik’s romantic interest, is fresh-faced if underused. But even these worthies come off generic—The Good ‘Baap’, The Bad ‘Mai-Baap’, The Greedy Businessman – as the film winds its way to its predictable end, taking up far too much of our time.
Yes, the real-life story is inspiring. But the telling of it is a drag. The film has its moments, which belong mostly to its young people: the kids are all right – AGENCY.