Director: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Aditya Shrivastava, Pankaj Tripathi, Mrunal Thakur, Amit Sadh
Super 30 is the ultimate underdog story. It's based on the life of Patna mathematician Anand Kumar who transformed the lives of impoverished children with free coaching, which enabled them to get into IIT. The film is about the transformative power of education. There is drama, emotion, tragedy, struggle. I entered ready to see an inspiring ode to the human spirit. I came out unsatisfied and exhausted. Because director Vikas Bahl takes a terrific story and overcooks it. You keep catching glimpses of a strong, soaring fairy tale but it never emerges.
Vikas assembles a dream team – DOP Anay Goswamy, editor Sreekar Prasad, composers Ajay-Atul, casting director Mukesh Chhabra. Mukesh fills the screen with faces who feel rooted in the setting – the students are uniformly good. So is the supporting cast – Virendra Saxena, Amit Sadh, Aditya Srivastava and Pankaj Tripathi, who once again does so much with so little. The bulk of the load falls on Hrithik Roshan as Anand Kumar. And he gives himself to the role. Hrithik is enthusiastic and sincere. The lack of vanity is laudable. There is no lack of trying but honestly, this is an impossible fit. Hrithik's striking looks are doused with bronzer, which is both distracting and problematic. The Bihari accent feels more acquired than authentic. And the screenplay doesn't let you forget his stardom – of course Anand is a hero but here he is elevated to the stuff of myth with dialogue like: Woh teacher nahin the, jaadugar the. He's also given a feeble love angle. It's a testament to Hrithik's earnestness, that despite the minuses, he manages to create moments that dazzle – watch him in the climactic scene when the exam results are announced. His expressions are so heartfelt that he almost convinces you to forget everything else.
Hrithik's striking looks are doused with bronzer, which is both distracting and problematic. The Bihari accent feels more acquired than authentic
What trips up the film is the high-pitch and the shaky tonality. Vikas and writer Sanjeev Dutta narrate in black and white. The villains are caricatures. The leader of the coaching class mafia sneers at Anand's poor students and declares: Langde ghode ko derby ki race main nahin chalate. When Anand and him have a confrontation, a storm brews outside and just in case you miss the symbolism, Anand says, "Lagta hai ki toofan aane wala hai." The background music relentlessly cues us on how to feel and every big moment is underlined. Sanjeev writes some lovely scenes for Anand's parents. And Mrunal Thakur gets one crackling line about men. But these flashes of fun and originality are too few.
Instead the film swerves from one big dramatic moment to another – at one point, Anand instructs his students to enact a scene from Sholay in English in front of sneering, more privileged, English-speaking students. This is supposed to help them gain self-confidence. It's just bizarre. At another point, Anand tells them, "Padhai bhaut ho gayi ab ladai karo." And instantly, the students are using their scientific knowledge to fend off armed goons. Who knew that math could fight bullets? These disparate threads dilute the power of the film because these scenes are so artificial and rudderless. I was rooting for Anand and his gifted kids but the simplistic and overwrought storytelling kept getting in the way.
Super 30 has good intentions and a necessary social message. "Raja ka beta raja nahi banega," Anand says emphatically. "Raja woh hi banega jo haqdaar hoga." This should have made for memorable cinema. But sadly, way too much has been lost in translation.