Director: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Mrunal Thakur, Pankaj Tripathi, Adithya Shrivastava
Super 30, the Hindi release starring Hrithik Roshan as mathematician and educator Anand Kumar, is directed by Vikas Bahl. Vikas Bahl was accused of non-consensually masturbating on an intoxicated woman, an employee of Phantom Films, one of the film’s production companies. And there are more than one accusation against Bahl while Phantom Films failed to handle the complaints. Anurag Kashyap is on record admitting that Phantom Films didn’t do even the bare minimum for the woman and even put her in a situation where she had to face her harasser. A committee set up by Phantom gave clean chit to Bahl despite all the overwhelming evidence.
Cinema is indeed a collaborative effort. People move mountains, give up their lives in the process of getting one film made and released. Hundreds of faceless (to the audience and even to stars on screen) people contribute blood and sweat towards a film. It can be asked – should a film containing efforts of such numbers be boycotted or dismissed because of a single man? It’s a complex issue and what cannot be dismissed is that a film directed by a harasser was green lit and he was allowed to make and complete his film, the stars promoting and a whole industry complicit in the process of giving him validation as a filmmaker. This is a case where there is no question of art vs artist. That debate comes with some assumptions. We watch films assuming the filmmaker and people behind the film come from an honest place in relation to their art. They are here to create art and it might be good or bad art, but it shares their integrity. Or that’s what we, again, believe. That it is born in a space that is well meaning and wants us to listen to what it is saying. When that is the case, I can separate art and the artist. I can say, maybe he didn’t intend this to be so and so but *I* read it as such. The artist then is a distant mirage to me, who resides only in my eyes, given a form drawn by my mind. But with someone like Vikas Bahl that image is shattered, replaced by flesh and blood with real world warts and only warts. I lose the cushion of freewheeling imagination and I can only see the sexual harasser. How then would you separate art and the artist? Maybe I can still remember Queen fondly, reaching only into my “enjoyment” of the film, a memory of that mirage, of an isolated experience. But what about newer films, when such a man is continued to be endorsed by a complicit industry?
But here we are, and now to the film. Mercifully, it’s not difficult to dislike. Super 30 has brown faced Hrithik Roshan playing Anand Kumar from Patna. The “brown face” idea in the film extends beyond its obvious discomfort. Anand Kumar is a mathematician from Patna who started the Super 30 program – 30 students from the underprivileged communities trained by him to take up the IIT Joint Entrance Examinations. This is mainstream Bollywood, so caste is not explicitly mentioned (unless it is raison d’etre like in Article 15) but we know what is alluded to in the hazy metaphors consisting of prince and paupers, king and kingmakers, rulers, heirs and merit. But look at how Anand Kumar’s students are shown, and you know the film. They are always dressed in rags, in classrooms and in examination halls. Almost all of them ran away from their houses. The film’s gaze seems to suggest that something like domestic abuse happens only in their families and not in families of students enrolled in Excellence Coaching Academy – the institute run by Lallan (Aditya Shrivastava) that takes lakhs as fees for coaching and was one of the reasons for Anand Kumar’s fame as a professor. The depiction of these students and the sympathetic, patronizing gaze that the film places on them is more disturbing than Hrithik Roshan’s brown face.
The first half has a few instances of elegant writing (screenplay by Sanjeev Dutta), mostly thanks to Virendra Saxena turning in a genial performance as Anand’s father Ishwar. He is the friendly postman straight out of R.K Narayan universe, who connects many lives through his letters. Even when he is overjoyed about Anand’s Cambridge admit – he runs around the house calling after his wife – he quickly cedes the floor to Anand and the rest of the family because he needs to inform someone that their loan has been sanctioned. Apart from these instances, Super 30 revels in biopic and character cliches: Cambridge dreams shatter, his father passes, and he is down to selling pappads. Bahl even has a shot of the admission letter wrapped with pappad and later crumbling in fire. When Anand enjoys brief monetary success with Excellence, he must obviously be intoxicated at its zenith. We see nothing of Anand’s genius except for throwaway math terms and some everyday science. This is supposed to be a biopic. But what makes this man tick? How does he teach? We are told there is magic in his teaching, but we aren’t shown any.
In the show that I watched, the subtitle for janata darbar – when Anand visits the politician played by an underused Pankaj Tripathi – was translated as Great Unwashed, caps and all. It suggests something key about this film. Its focus is disingenuous, simply milking the drama out of the idea of Anand and the plight of these children with dreams in their eyes. It neither engages with Anand’s life nor the children. And Bahl milks it till the last drop, even putting together a painful musical where the children put up a skit in front of the Excellence Academy. They are first laughed at and later laughed with. Hrithik tries to maintain his accent but loses the pebbles in his mouth now and then. And if people like Bahl are free to make films, we’d lose our minds.
The Super 30 review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.