By M Kanishka Narang (Bangalore)
Vikas Bahl’s Super 30 is based on the life of brilliant mathematician Anand Kumar who helps thirty smart but underprivileged children prepare for entrance exams to the IITs. The film showcases how poor students with meager resources struggle but eventually triumph with guidance from Kumar.
Hrithik Roshan, who plays Anand Kumar, does justice to his character. Having got used to seeing him in romantic or superhero roles, it must have been challenging to play a mathematics teacher. The audience would naturally find it difficult to relate to him. However, one can spot the effort that he has put into fleshing out Anand Kumar’s role. Take for instance the way he magnanimously responds to the humiliation meted out to him by the librarian of a reputed college. Another instance is when Kumar manages to get into Cambridge but is short of money to realize that aspiration. He sees his father die trying to raise money for the purpose. This scene is a sad commentary on how intelligent youth from poor backgrounds lose opportunities merely because of their economic status.
Super 30 successfully engages with the question of privilege and class bias in other ways too. For example, Kumar is seen motivating his students who are weak in English to stand up to their counterparts from English-medium schools. The scene where they do a skit in English with privileged kids as an audience is praiseworthy. The skit, an idea conceived by Kumar teaches his students to believe in themselves and never give up. In many other scenes too Kumar is seen emphasizing the importance of education to his students.
Anand Kumar is regarded as a precious teacher by his students, and he is in great demand from the rich and poor alike. But while batting for the rights of the poor, Vikas Bahl’s Super 30 does not succumb to the temptation of painting privileged children as villains. For example, there is a scene where a rich former student of Kumar asks him why he is depriving them of his teaching. Is it because he is privileged? The irony of the situation is stark.
Another notable scene in Super 30 is when the local MLA Shriram Singh (played by Pankaj Tripathi) breaks his promise of helping Anand Kumar. Hrithik portrays Kumar’s disappointment with ease and confidence. Full marks to Pankaj Tripathi for making us cringe at his crookedness and pettiness, either in the pipe dreams he sells to Anand Kumar and the rural folk or in his involvement with the coaching mafia. He truly makes you want to hate him.
Super 30 has its share of comedy too, such as when Hrithik enlightens his first love Supriya (played by Mrunal Thakur) on the mathematical ratio used to measure beauty. I never knew that such a ratio existed and was pleasantly surprised to learn of the same. The movie thus weds Anand Kumar’s obsession with mathematics with his love for Supriya.
Mrunal Thakur depicts Supriya, a girl from an elite background who doesn’t carry that status on her sleeve. After all, she is the daughter of a rich businessman but is dating the son of a postman. She is neither too brash nor too simple but subtly gels into her character. One loves her in the second half when she steals an important document to rescue Anand Kumar’s dream. She is a delight to watch when she tells her IAS officer husband (who is aware of her past with Kumar) that her choice of men has always been sound! For a newcomer it is a great start.
Personally, I sympathized with Lallan Singh’s character (played by Aditya Srivastav) for being let down by Anand Kumar. His position is unenviable and hence credit is due to Srivastava for portraying the money hungry head of a successful coaching centre who is eventually defeated by Anand Kumar.
Anand Kumar’s innovative teaching techniques are at the fore in Super 30. The maths, physics and chemistry concepts are explained well and used intelligently in the fight sequences which are worth watching purely for this reason. They mask any kind of boredom that might arise owing to their length.
Anand Kumar’s fight against a corrupt system and his obsessive need to help needy students reminds one of Robin Hood. He is willing to risk his life for the sake of educating his students. The second half is replete with scenes of violence when Anand Kumar’s rivals gun for his blood.
The larger point that Super 30 makes, which is that students from poor backgrounds have it in them to be successful, provided they are smart and determined, is not lost on the audience. This forms the heart and soul of the movie and is as precise as one of Anand Kumar’s maths lectures. The movie’s heart literally beats to the tune of justice for the underprivileged.
Super 30 is a bold take on India’s education system that is corrupted by nepotism and privilege. Considering that it is based on a true story makes it all the more relevant.