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Home > Entertainment News > Bollywood News > Article > 12th FailMovie Review This is the India story

12th Fail Movie Review: This is the India story!

Updated on: 27 October,2023 11:22 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar | mayank.shekhar@mid-day.com

12th Fail, which should’ve ideally been titled Restart (its tag-line), a film about the generosity of fellow humans. That no one’s really self-made. That it takes a proverbial village (literally, in this case) to script a success story

12th Fail Movie Review: This is the India story!

12th Fail Movie Review

Film: 12th Fail 
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra 
Actors: Vikrant Massey, Anant V Joshi 
U: Drama 
Rating: 4/5


What is it if not craft, that you watch a lengthy pre-climax sequence, lasting several minutes, sometimes in slow-motion, where nothing much happens on screen. But for a candidate, for an IAS entrance exam, simply heading to the designated UPSC office in New Delhi, to be called in for an interview. 


From his entering the main gate, into the hall with other applicants, who’ve made it thus far, down to the mundaneness of sitting around, eventually getting ushered into the room of interviewees… The filmmaker has you by the eyeballs. 


Once you’ve achieved that—surely, the hardest part—I guess, it gets sufficiently easy to deliver/receive lessons/thoughts, on struggles, and journeys of the Indian, less-privileged young. 

Such as the boy in this film, from rural Chambal, aiming for a place in the Indian civil services. Is this the clichéd rags-to-riches story? No. 

I found instead in 12th Fail, which should’ve ideally been titled Restart (its tag-line), a film about the generosity of fellow humans. That no one’s really self-made. That it takes a proverbial village (literally, in this case) to script a success story.  

And that generosity can come from anywhere—the grandmother (Sarita Joshi), the girlfriend (Medha Sharma), an unknown elder (Priyanshu Chatterjee), a stranger on the street (Anant V Joshi)… As with circumstances, there are enough people pulling you up, as they’re pushing you down! On that balance hangs your life, often, doesn’t it? 

Therefore, in terms of intent or flow, the film that 12th Fail reminded me of is actually The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). Which is such tall praise to fall from, that having made that analogy myself, I must warn you, all the same, about resetting your expectations, right away. 

There’s still nothing to take away from this film’s greatness, which rests on the fact that it’s not the great-man story, or about some sorta genius, as it were. Those are biopics, as it were. This could be millions of Indians’ story, that you could hear, wherever you go. 

Failure being built into the DNA of relative deprivation—starting with the luck of the draw, for where you were born, and for wherever you set off to, thereafter. Not everybody lands as Dhirubhai Ambani (Guru, 2007). 

But you could certainly gain admission into a fine engineering/medical college, try and try again to finally pass the CA exam, invest in a small shop, practice in sport, or repeatedly audition for roles to become an actor, just an actor; at least getting close to whatever you had in mind. 

This film is, of course, about one such civil-services aspirant. It’s based on the book, by Anurag Pathak, that the film is named after—admittedly inspired by the life of one, Manoj Kumar Sharma. 

Vikrant Massey plays this lead role. By the looks of it, this is the kinda casting you’d consider quite similar to, say, Hrithik Roshan as the Bihari maths teacher in Super 30 (2019).  

In the sense that, on the face of it, it’s casting against type. But that’s also throwing a challenge at an actor to rise up to a role, beyond getting bronzed/tanned up for it. 

There is a sattvic quality, or sincerity that emanates from within, in Massey Sahib, hence, that’s impossible to miss. His character also represents a huge Indian sub-culture of students, whose entire professional lives hinge on the outcome of one exam—as we survey the damp, depressing streets of a ‘campateesan capital’ such as Mukherjee Nagar, in North Delhi. 

It’s a tough battlefield, where the dice couldn’t be more loaded against the blindly hopeful. Hindi medium education, for instance, is a natural disadvantage—only 30-40 of the 2 lakh of those types get through. 

I have sort of observed this world closely, and fled from holding any such ambition, over a test, where the entire world is the frickin’ syllabus. 

What if you don’t make it? What’re you gonna do with Google inside your brain, and the number of years lost, attempting to vomit it in a question paper? Or maybe that gives the more possessed kids, deserving of a shot at the sun, with everything to lose, a levelled field. 

3 Idiots (2009), also produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, was equally a comment on an oppressive education system that overvalues rote learning. 

In hindsight, my issue with the incredibly influential 3 Idiots, as a film that spoke to an entire generation (even beyond India), is it didn’t offer any counter-point. For instance, what if passion was overrated? What’s wrong with becoming a well-paid engineer, after all! 

Likewise, you feel 12th Fail doesn’t quite address why the civil services should be so coveted a job that your life depends on it. Why’s there so much power vested in handful bada sahibs in mofussil districts that it’s equivalent to becoming a local god, lording over helpless serfs?  

Neither situation is true for Britain, for that matter—the country that placed this colonial administration on India, and we carried on with it. 

But that’s a longer conversation that, ideally, this film must inspire. As for the film itself, in every way, it marks the return of Chopra—director of the iconic Khamosh (1986, murder-mystery), Parinda (1989, underworld), 1942: A Love Story (1994, romance)—in 2023, delving deep into a space that belongs progressively more to younglings at TVF, delivering stellar content such as Aspirants, on the same subject. 

As a director, he’s had a false start or two—Broken Horses (2015, crime thriller), in particular, that seemed a failed attempt at flourish, rather than a film. 12th Fail is the reverse. 

Which, obviously, isn’t to suggest the flourish is absent. This is essentially Chopra, 71, doing a restart! What’s there not to laud about it?   

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