Last week I watched 12th fail and only 8 individuals joined to watch a movie based on the life of an Indian Police Service officer who failed in class 12th. The movie revolves around the life of Manoj Kumar played by Vikrant Massey and depicts his real-life struggle growing up in the fields of Chambal Valley and his family’s struggles with poverty and caste discrimination. In his town education is a Hindu medium and mass copying is the way out for qualifying examinations as it is sanctioned by school management and higher-ups.
His region is joined by a new DySP who supervises the entire examination with honesty, leading to mass failure of the entire batch and Manoj fails in class 12th. The new DySP is known across the region for integrity and inspired by his work and personality gullible Manoj asks him how do I become like you? ‘Stop cheating in exams’, answers the DySP and those words changed the life of a 12th fail.
The predicament of education in rural India where institutional mass copying is the norm, amidst this an aspiring boy wants to become an honest police officer as his family is facing caste-based discrimination. Born in an impoverished family consisting of a father who is a suspended government servant and is fighting for his rights through litigations and the entire family is facing harsh times to make ends meet.
Manoj then migrates to Gwalior to pursue state-level civil services leaving his entire family at his brother’s mercy who runs a cart of essential commodities. To his shock, he gets to know that next year’s civil services at the state level won’t be conducted and in solitary Manoj sits for nights at the railway station down and out. At the railway station, he meets Anurag Pathak (a fellow UPSC aspirant) and gets familiar with UPSC, the importance of IPS officers, and how the UPSC exam can lead him there. Based on the book titled’ 12th fail written by Anurag Pathak which is based on the real-life story of serving IPS officer Manoj Kumar Sharma and his wife Shraddha Joshi.
He reaches Mukherjee Nagar the mecca of civil services in India and experiences obstacles to live and survive. Shot at real locations in Mukherjee Nagar, the movie discovers real-life hardships of students preparing for civil service and how their lives get surrounded by street cafes, classrooms, libraries and reading newspapers. A Hindi medium student coming from a Chambal region is ridiculed for clearing UPSC which is an English medium. Students and the entire ecosystem at Mukherjee Nagar make him inundated while coming in contact with millions of students. Cinematically the movie is showcased in pure art form with no theatrical background music to exploit the emotions of the audience. The movie has a predictable story with an authentic and raw presentation and this is where it connects with the audience and touches the hearts and souls of all those who are underdogs, toiling to reach the top with com The spirit of the movie lies in the scene where the father desperately asks his son ‘we can’t win this battle’. Son replies, ‘but we can’t accept defeat’. The theme of the movie lies in the underdogs and their spirit towards a better life. This movie is a theatrical experience of emotions where the life lesson of #ReStart is spread, Manoj fails in almost all the attempts of UPSC except the last one. But what is it that made him prepare for the same exam again and again, it’s the struggles of his family, his will to become an IPS officer.
The movie is a déjà vu for those who have lived and experienced preparing for these exams, the anxious run towards the result board, the sleepless night of thinking what if I don’t qualify, the feeling of isolation when you see others excelling, their happy faces, the troubled stages of balancing between civil services exams and your love life, the situations and circumstances which an aspirant undergoes during his journey. UPSC preparations and love life never get aligned, Manoj was lucky to have a partner who was the cause of his success even though she was more successful than him and we get to see a real-life love story on a cinema reel. The movie talks about how one’s success in becoming a civil servant is not a mere individual story but a collective victory of all those who have supported and sacrificed their lives for his victory. Perhaps that’s the story of the underdogs, when someone moves ahead, others battling for the same personalizes with his accomplishment.
Directed and produced by Vindhu Vinod Chopra 12th Fail is a must-watch for all of us, for the millennials, for the achievers and for those who are in pursuit of following their dreams. After producing Munna Bhai MBBS, 3 Idiots, Sanju, and Shikara, Vindhu Vinod Chopra has dedicated this movie to a handful of honest government officers of the country. Coming from Wazir Bagh area of Srinagar, Vinod Chopra in 2021 released his memoir titled ‘Unscripted Conversations of Life and Cinema’ where he narrates his life journey from Srinagar to an Oscar nomination. Again a must-read for dreamers.
The movie reminds us of the Korean and Iranian style of cinema which is based on method acting, no artificial set pieces, and no flashy costumes and makeup by characters, the movie is as sincere as our daily life battles. It is character and emotionally driven with state of art camera scenes such as the sobbing scenes of mother-son, and UPSC building roundtable interviews. It has emotion, suffering, patience, perseverance, love and all elements of movie-making that will make it into a cult classic deserving of foreign language entry at the Oscars. At the end of the movie, a small number of the audience at Inox Srinagar clapped their hearts out for this beautiful piece of realistic cinema, something that is rare.
Badrul-Duja, a practicing advocate and cinephile based in Srinagar