February 23, 2024
Bodhisattva Sharma, Samta Sudiksha, Geeta Agarwal, Shashi Bhushan, Sheeba Chaddha, Neeraj, Ayush Pandey, Saadat Khan
“Tum ladkon ke akal mein phaphoond laga hota hai kya?” (Have you boys got fungus on your brains?) Sarika Kumari asks her classmate Vivek Singh in the new Hindi film All India Rank. It’s the sort of throwaway line that indicates the user’s comfort with the tongue.
The ease with which Sarika slips phaphoond into the right context makes it my word of the week, though nasudda hogs the limelight in All India Rank since Vivek is asked the meaning at one point. (I won’t tell you his answer.)
It is no surprise that All India Rank has the feel of a film written by someone who takes pleasure in language. It is after all the directorial debut of Varun Grover who rose to fame and acclaim with his lyrics for Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), then sealed his reputation by writing Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015). Grover has also written this film, which was premiered last February at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam and is now in Indian theatres.
Sarika (Samta Sudiksha) in All India Rank is one of the foremost supporting players in the story of Vivek (Bodhisattva Sharma), a teenager from Lucknow who arrives in Kota in 1997 to prepare for the IIT entrance test. Kota is the Mecca of coaching classes for IIT aspirants or, as Vivek’s father R.K. Singh (Shashi Bhushan) puts it, it is
I’ll leave you to spot the messaging that dots the film, including the manner in which the writer-director tests the liberal viewers’ obliviousness to anti-minority stereotyping in Hindi cinema by seeming to present a stereotype, then turning it on its head. No spoilers here – you will hopefully recognise that episode when you see it. Compare it to the mischief played by the writer-director of last year’s OMG 2, who placed three minority community members in his all-Hindu universe in a north Indian temple town, wrote all three of them as jerks, and picked one of them to torment a schoolmate over his penis size, thus setting off a chain of events that almost destroyed the boy.
The film is not about any of this though, just as it is not about IIT. Grover leaves us free to note his politics if we wish, or to enjoy All India Rank as a sweet little film about “a time of innocence, a time of confidences”, to borrow from the American songwriter Paul Simon’s Bookends (1968).
Unlike most coming-of-age sagas, All India Rank does not feature any grand awakening or drastic change in the central character’s plans by the close. Yet, it tugs at the heart. The film is like photographs we take of regular days, pictures that don’t commemorate a birth, death, graduation or anniversary but instead freeze frame the spaces in between when most of life occurs. Those are the days that get us to our milestones, and our stories are incomplete without them.
In choosing to make All India Rank – and make it in precisely the way he does – Grover subscribes to the Paul Simon school of thought. “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” (Bookends again)
Rating (out of 5 stars): 3
Visual courtesy: IMDB