An incredible lack of vanity surrounds Hrithik Roshan, undoubtedly one of Bollywood’s most handsome heroes, in ‘Super 30’.
Roshan, who dramatises the hardships of celebrated Indian mathematician Anand Kumar, takes a leap of faith as he strips down his defences and creates a vulnerable portrait of a man on a mission to offer free coaching to poor students from Bihar who are appearing for the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology entrance exams.
Roshan — in his bid to empower these young minds who are the lowest in the social and economic food chain — exudes that quivering agony and helplessness like a wounded, trapped animal.
Be warned, you will need to first learn to ignore his face — caked with unflattering shades of dark brown foundation and sooty bronzer (an obvious crutch to represent the poor as inherently browner than the privileged, rich people) — to fully engage with his character.
His light eyes against his unnatural tan jars, but there’s no ignoring his earnestness as a saviour to dozens of young minds who have been kicked in the gut by life.
Roshan’s rants against class divides in India, emits guttural sobs when he runs short of money to feed his students at his coaching centre and laments his frustration at being born poor, all of which are a treat to watch. His performance is highly physical though and his throbbing veins and crunched up face when miserable might seem over-the-top.
That feeling that Roshan’s careening dangerously towards overacting is highlighted when you see seasoned actor Pankaj Tripathi, playing a smarmy politician, nail every scene with an effortless ease. The Bihar-born Tripathi’s performance as this manipulative hustler seems relatively organic and seems to come from a natural space making Roshan’s act sporadically contrived. Veteran actor Virendra Saxena as Kumar’s doting, impoverished-but-progressive father, tugs at your heart strings.
Actress Mrunal Thakur who plays Roshan's girlfriend plays her bit in the limited role given.
The pace of this social drama — that hasn’t ever been schooled in subtlety — is fractured. There are sequences where you feel Roshan’s rant against the world for those who are denied access to the best education and tutoring gets tedious and repetitive. The number of times we are told that we need to subvert the traditional, regressive narrative of a king’s son becoming the ruler gets exhausting. We get it, a petulant student — or in this case a viewer — might scream in frustration.
Like any classroom lecture spearheaded by an academician, there are highs, lows and painfully preachy patches.
But if you sit through the didactic and deliriously high points, you are likely to walk away smarter.
Something on those lines play out while watching ‘Super 30’. There are incredible highs and some terrible lows. So the trick is to ride them out.
One of the biggest letdowns is the unimpressionable batch of ‘Super 30’ students, alluding to the number of children cherry-picked by Kumar, to provide free coaching and boarding.
The obscure young actors are collectively forgettable, except for the scene where they hit back against class divides in a street-theatre ensemble that appears in the second half. The scene in which they find their voice — in true rock-star style — gives you a high.
Precious minutes are wasted though in driving home the rivalry between Kumar and his former boss, a greedy mercenary corporate stooge — an on-point actor Aditya Shrivastava — who tries to sabotage Kumar’s coaching centre because he wants to make money out of peddling education. Their enmity is drilled into you with a rabid intensity. But fortunately, director Vikas Bahl and the actors clean up their act towards a climax that’s fortunately cathartic.
While the film doesn’t encumber you with a nuanced performance from its lead star, ‘Super 30’ scores high when it comes to a one-time watch about the deep divide between the haves and the have-nots.
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Film: ‘Super 30’
Director: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Pankaj Tripathi, Aditya Shrivastava and Virendra Saxena
Stars: 3 out of 5