12th fail movie: In the vast landscape of Indian cinema, there exists a category of films that tread the straight and narrow path. These are the movies where the acting is on point, the direction is steady, and the narrative flows seamlessly. They are efficient in conveying their intended message, and from point A to Z, they take the audience on a journey with minimal detours. But life, much like the world of cinema, is often about the unexpectedness of the journey, the twists and turns that make the destination all the more meaningful.
Three years after his directorial endeavor exploring the Kashmiri Pandit exodus in “Shikara” (2020), Vidhu Vinod Chopra returns to the director’s chair with “12th Fail.” The film draws inspiration from Anurag Pathak’s book of the same name and narrates the remarkable real-life story of Manoj Kumar Sharma, a young man hailing from a small village in Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal region. What makes Manoj’s journey exceptional is that, despite failing his Class 12 exams, he defied the odds to become an IPS officer.
The film commences in the rustic village, where a young Manoj, portrayed earnestly by Vikrant Massey, is seen scribbling “farrey” (chits) in preparation for his upcoming board exams. In stark contrast, his idealistic father, a BDO, finds himself embroiled in a moral dilemma, refusing to sign an illegal document and eventually resorting to a slipper-assisted dispute with his senior. Manoj’s psyche oscillates between his father’s unwavering idealism and the pervasive moral ambiguity of the world.
The village sequences are captured with a nostalgic touch, reminiscent of 1950s cinema. At times, they border on feeling outdated and seem perilously close to poverty exploitation. However, they are interspersed with moments of vintage charm, as exemplified when Manoj’s grandmother bestows her life savings upon him. These scenes, with their soft lensing and mellifluous flute music, evoke memories of Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece, “Pather Panchali” (1955).
As one might anticipate from the film’s title, Manoj’s journey takes a twist when a local DSP interrupts the age-old practice of communal cheating in his school, leading to his failure in Class 12. However, this setback catalyzes his determination to pursue higher education in Gwalior, eventually leading him to Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar, the epicenter of civil services aspirants. While the film proceeds along a well-trodden path, it frequently pauses for monologues, elaborating on the struggles faced by the underprivileged.
Manoj’s arduous journey is depicted through scenes of him cleaning toilets, serving tea, and grinding wheat in a cramped space. Yet, instead of fostering empathy for the character, the audience might find themselves growing desensitized to his trials. His internal struggles remain largely unexplored, as Manoj is often defined solely by his relentless pursuit of becoming an IPS officer. Nevertheless, Chopra skillfully captures the chaotic streets of Delhi’s civil services hub, injecting moments of humor such as a salon offering specific haircuts for IAS and IPS interviewees.
Comparisons between “12th Fail” and TVF’s “Aspirants” are inevitable, as both narratives revolve around the lives of civil services aspirants. While the latter series delves into the motivations of each character, “12th Fail” struggles to breathe life into its supporting cast. Characters like Gauri, portrayed by Anshumaan Pushkar, bear a semblance to Sandeep bhaiyya from “Aspirants” but lack the depth that made the TVF character memorable. The film’s narrator and Manoj’s friend, Pandey (Anant Joshi), fits the mold of a reluctant applicant, appearing for exams under parental pressure, but his voiceover attempts to infuse humor into an otherwise dramatic plot and often falls flat. Medha Shankar, playing Manoj’s love interest and fellow aspirant, becomes a mere vehicle for advancing Manoj’s story, leaving her character underdeveloped.
In 2009, Chopra produced and co-wrote “3 Idiots,” a film that offered a comprehensive exploration of the lives of students, their dreams, needs, and struggles. The movie dared to confront challenging topics such as college suicides, parental pressures, and the academic rat race. In contrast, “12th Fail” approaches its subject matter with a seriousness that, unfortunately, hinders its narrative. The film becomes somewhat predictable, clunky, and at times, disjointed.
“12th Fail” is a journey of aspiration and missed opportunities, much like life itself. It serves as a reminder that the beauty of cinema lies not just in reaching the destination but in the unexpected twists and turns that shape the journey. In a world that often focuses on the destination, this film encourages us to appreciate the significance of the path we traverse, no matter how predictable or clunky it may seem.