“All India Rank, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Nobody” – A Subhash K Jha Review

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All India Rank

Kota is the place where middleclass dreamers send their children for coaching classes to further their dreams (the parents’) of a better life. The children often become a casualty of their guardians’ ambitions. Hence the heartbreaks, hence the suicides.

In Varun Sharma’s All India Rank, Vivek Singh is one such pitiable aspirant. There is nothing remarkable about Vivek, or the actor Bodhisatva Sharma, who plays Vivek. Perhaps the quality of being blissfully nondescript is what made Varun Grover choose whom he did.

Often in films about the working class the actors playing faceless smalltowners stand out like the lead dancer in a chorus dance. Here everyone looks his or her part. There are no filmy flashes even in the songs which are, if I may coin a phrase, retroriginal—representing the heated cheesiness of mofussil mojo in the 1990s—except when Alka Yagnik suddenly blares in with Tu shaayar hain main teri shaayari at a party where Vivek’s father is insulted and told he has lost his job.

No, Vivek’s father doesn’t kill himself. Nor does Vivek do a slow-fade burning the midnight oil far away from home. But his father is pushy enough for the boy to run as far away as possible from his father’s dreams.

After one of his conversations with his father, Vivek tells a friend, “No matter what my father says I only hear, ‘IIT, IIT, IIT’…”

I wish the boy’s parental burden had been dealt with a firmer hand. In his directorial debut, Varun Grover seems determined to keep the tone light even when his protagonist is clearly suffering the crippling burden of his father’s ambitions.

There is nothing here that we haven’t seen before in films like 3 Idiots, Chichhore and Love All and of course the brilliant series Kota Factory, not to forget the recent 12th Fail whose looming shadow falls on All India Rank with unflattering arrogance.

It is not the pathbreaking route of cinematic expression that Varun Grover chooses. He has a story to tell. He is not concerned about how many times it has been done. He is just happy telling the story that he wants to. In that, he succeeds in giving us an amiable slice-of-life motion picture.

For me, All India Rank is watchable for its lived-in warmth. The narrative is uncluttered and artless. The characters are unremarkable, and played at a low octave. What a relief to see the always brilliant Sheeba Chaddha playing a dedicated teacher who is not eccentric.

But the best moments are between Vivek’s father and mother, played by Shashi Bhushan and Geeta Aggarwal. When she is traumatized by a fake-acid attack (this track in the plot doesn’t seem to lead anywhere except to remind us that anonymous callers had a free hand during the pre-mobile days) he feeds her a rinsed roshogolla as she has a weakness for sweet things.

It is the small moments between characters, be it Vivek’s father and mother, or between Vivek and the spirited bright girl Sarika (Samta Sudishka), which light up the glum corners of this don’t-thrust-your-dreams-on-your-kids cautionary tale.

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