Any mainstream filmmaker who has a socio-political agenda in his/her film, must be prepared to face brickbats from important sections of the media as if “agenda” is the monopoly of either off-mainstream filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani, or, those who make films only with an agenda in mind such as Anand Patwardhan and Deepa Dhanraj. In recent times, this has happened to films like Article 15 and now, Super 30.

Based on the real life rise and fall and rise of mathematician Anand Kumar of Patna, Bihar, the first merit of Super 30 lies in bringing a dedicated teacher whose name most of us have never heard into the limelight. Who is Anand Kumar? In his late forties, this man is solely responsible for training children from severely underprivileged families to appear in the IIT Entrance exams every year since 2002. He takes in 100 working children who are school drop-outs and selects 30 to appear. He takes care of food and shelter of these 100 children till they have finished their training. The success rate is more than 90% and sometimes, it is even 100% though, thanks to the brazen commercialisation of coaching classes with strong ministerial backing, is often attacked by the compromised media. He also faces life-threats but his commitment is total. Over the past 17 years, around 422 students have cleared the IIT entrance exams. He runs another coaching class with fees from upper classes for bread and butter.

Choosing Hrithik Roshan to portray the character is by itself a message that this is a mainstream film never mind the brown make-up and the stripping of the glamour his name immediately suggests and of course, the Bihari Hindi he speaks in. Putting in two song-dance numbers, some sweet romance that has a sad-happy ending, a spoof performance of a scene from Sholay by children few of who have watched the film and a murder attempt placed in very unrealistic and melodramatic circumstances does not reduce Super 30 to any average masala film as some critics have said. If this be true, then Chak De India can easily qualify as a masala film by the sole reason that it features Shahrukh Khan as the much-maligned protagonist, or, Dangal because it features Amir Khan, Akshay Kumar in Pad Man and many more such.

A masala film will draw the mass audience much more easily and quickly than a purely off-mainstream “agenda” film. The more people watch Super 30, the more will their knowledge quotient get a much-needed boost. Super 30 is a film which everyone must watch in order to clear our confusion and our craziness to get our kids to join the topmost engineering colleges in the country topped by the IITs spread across the country.

Super 30 is not only a film that follows the struggles of a single man. It does much more. It opens our eyes to the intense passion a teenager has to study mathematics and become a nuclear scientist that makes him sit under a tree opposite the place he works in to solve mathematical problems by himself. But he knows he will never be able to become one. Or, an adolescent young girl who wants to specialise in microbiology or some similar scientific stream but cannot afford to do so because she must work to support her family. Their teacher, Anand Kumar is also very poor because he has given up a lucrative job at a five-star coaching class to begin his own private tutorial so there are days when they must go without food.

The film is also about how a close-knit poor family headed by Issar, a humble postman (Virendra Saxena) can work through every odd to back the man whose sole dream is to educate those who lack the means to do so. The few scenes showing Anand with his father who he calls by his first name Issar, the younger brother Pranav, who dotes on his bhaiyya and the mother (Sadhana Singh)with a naughty sense of humour offer a glimpse into the truth that contentment and the solidarity in a poor man’s home is both possible and necessary.

There is an insistent emphasis to focus on the tremendous commercial viability of coaching classes across the country mainly in Kota, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Indore, Surat, Ranchi, Ahmedabad and a few other places. where parents are charged up to Rs.15,00000 “with guarantee” for each child and all this has the solid backing, in this film, of the state minister for education Sri SriRam Sinh (Pankaj Tripathi) who treats the CEO Lallan Singh (Aditya Srivastava) of the coaching class worse than a servant and the CEO takes it all in silently! This is an example of parents with money joining the “metoo” game of competing with fellow parents for getting their kids into an engineering college. It also a gimpose into the price an educated man is willing to pay just for the money he gets out of the total racket. This is just a microcosm of the corruption, the manipulation, the compromise and the surrender to commerce that exists right across the country in every field. The “doctoring” of the text results between the upper class students of the coaching class and the Super 30 batch are all in the game.

In the first half, the melodramatic twists such as the sudden death of Issar, or, Anand’s cycle accident while selling papads turning his destiny, apparently towards a better lifestyle are handled very well. So is his doomed love story with Supriya (Mrunal Thakur) who belongs to a very affluent family. But in the second half, the melodramas just cannot be wished away which include the Holi song-dance number, the murder attempt on Anand ending along the railway tracks, and the hospital being emptied out before the attack. The mathematical metaphors Anand uses in his class are not always comprehensible but they add that much-needed spice to a film that explores both Mathematics and a mathematician whose teaching is “like a magician turning tricks,” according to one student. They use these apparently simple examples and allegories while fighting with the hospital attackers towards the end of the film. The framing device of an ex-student Phooga narrating the life story of Anand Kumar in his speech in Poland is superfluous because the film would have done well standing its own ground. The restaurant owner convinced by Anand’s pep talk which makes him agree to give free ration to the Super 30 kids for three months is also very unrealistic but lends a touch of humour to the scene.

Tiny touches are moving and remain with you. One is when Anand’s parents bring their own old shawls and woollens to the tailor to make woollens for Anand’s Cambridge trip that never happens. Another is the brief exchange between Supriya and her husband after an important file goes missing from his bag and the class is rescued from certain death. The food getting over before the bunch of kids have finished eating is incredibly moving and last, but never the least, is that scene where the entire batch of students have fallen asleep anywhere and everywhere on the day preceding the entrance exams, tired after their fight with the goons through the night.

Characterisations are a mix of good and bad. The main characters are brilliantly fleshed out and acted in with Hrithik Roshan running away with the honours followed very closely by Virendra Saxena, Sadhana Singh, Nandish Singh and Mrunal Thakur. But the fleshing out of the journalist Raghunath (Amit Sadh) who hides an intelligent and honest mind beneath that bottle of liquor is not a nice reflection on a serious journalist though he has done justice to his role. Extending the same argument, the characters of Lallan Singh and the education minister are much too exaggerated and stick out like sore thumbs in an otherwise very well-performed film. Roshan has deconstructed himself completely to step out of his star image to the maximum and as you journey along, you find him as endearing as his first batch of Super 30 do. They too, deserve much more than a pat on the back for their stunning performance in the entire film. That closing shot of his walking out into the rain and then slowly turning around to see his Super 30 batch shouting out their success in one solid group is unforgettable.

Anay Goswami and Michel Sosna’s cinematography, specially the former who shot the entire Patna scenario, is brilliant in its magical use of lighting, using different shades of the bright and the dark to place the characters in perspective and also while closing in on the faces of the students in the make-shift classroom, back to Anand using his chalk restively to make notes on the blackboard we do not understand at all, investing the entire film with a sense of intrigue. The camera work is especially good during the night shoots on the railway level crossing and the tracks and outside the hospital where students use their ingenuity to defend the attack by Lallan Singh’s deadly killers.

Ajay and Atul Gogavale’s music is much more than necessary for this kind of film but the Sanskrit shlokas on the soundtrack help intensify the emotional drama at strategic points. But the music is much too loud where low key would have done better. Pallab Chanda and Milind Gokade’s art direction is precise, non-glamorous and effective spelling out authenticity rather than artificiality. A. Sreekar Prasad’s editing is also quite good except the sudden jerks and cuts into the grand and lavish locations and interiors of the glamorous coaching class which is built more like a five-star hotel than a coaching class which is a reflection of reality.

Yes, Super 30 is a masala film. It could not and should not have been any different because it may work as an inspiration for all those kids out there who have no clue that somewhere in Patna, there is a man who can help them realise their dreams of higher education. Kudos to the entire team of Super 30, warts and all, for giving us such an inspirational and optimistic film filled with hope.