In the world of cinema, it’s often the underdog story that strikes a chord with audiences, and writer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra brings his mastery to the forefront in his latest outing, “12th Fail.” Based on the novel of the same name by Anurag Pathak, the film chronicles the remarkable journey of Manoj Kumar Sharma, a young man from Chambal who, despite being a 12th dropout, embarks on a mission to prepare for the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exam, known as one of the most challenging exams in India.
Chopra uses this inspiring and emotionally charged tale as his canvas and paints it with a wide range of emotions – from pain and anger to failure and victory, from helplessness to unwavering confidence. The film stars Vikrant Massey in the role of Manoj, a character who, in the opening scenes, is shown working at a tea stall, an aata chakki, and even cleaning toilets to make ends meet. “12th Fail” doesn’t sugarcoat anything; it presents the scenario as raw and real as possible, offering a glimpse into the harsh realities faced by countless students who prepare for the UPSC exam year after year. Some succeed, while others are forced to ‘restart’ and give it another shot. Chopra introduces the concept of the “restart funda” for UPSC aspirants early in the film, and it remains a consistent theme, subtly woven into various stages of the narrative.
The film also takes a critical look at the loopholes in the Indian education system. In one striking scene, a school in Chambal openly encourages students to cheat in their board exams, as passing the 12th standard is the only way for these young minds to secure jobs and support their families. The story takes a significant turn when DSP Dushyant Singh, played by Priyanshu Chatterjee in a small yet impactful role, intervenes and stops the students from cheating. This intervention becomes a turning point for Manoj (Massey), who decides to follow this righteous path. However, the following year, when DSP Singh is transferred, the school reverts to its unethical practices, and everyone passes with flying colors except Manoj, who is content with his third division. This setback drives Manoj to Gwalior for UPSC coaching, and destiny leads him to Delhi’s chaotic Mukherjee Nagar, home to a multitude of students from all corners of India who converge there in pursuit of a single UPSC seat. “12th Fail” focuses on Manoj’s journey, along with his girlfriend Shraddha Joshi (Medha Shankar), as they navigate the daily hurdles and challenges presented by this competitive environment.
Vikrant Massey delivers a career-defining performance in “12th Fail.” At every step, he brings a myriad of shades to his character. As a teenager in school, he is oblivious to the immorality of cheating, but as a struggling UPSC student, he is brimming with determination and grit. He doesn’t mind sacrificing sleep, sometimes getting only three hours a night, to ensure he has enough time to study and perform menial jobs for survival. Massey fully embodies Manoj’s character, leaving no room for complaints. His portrayal is nuanced, genuine, and emotionally resonant, making him the heart and soul of the film.
Despite its 147-minute runtime, “12th Fail” never overstays its welcome. It maintains a consistent tension, chaos, and pace that keeps the audience engaged throughout. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s direction ensures that every subplot and character introduced has its unique and compelling story, seamlessly integrated into the screenplay. Whether it’s Manoj’s friend Pandey, the son of a government servant, or his mentor Gauri bhaiya (Anshuman Pushkar), who, after failing to fulfill his dream of becoming an IPS officer, dedicates his life to training others and helping them restart their lives, each character adds depth to the narrative with their individual narratives.
In conclusion, “12th Fail” is a film that demands your attention. It is a compelling and inspiring story that showcases the power of resilience and the spirit of never giving up. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s direction, combined with Vikrant Massey’s exceptional performance, creates a cinematic experience that is both emotionally impactful and thought-provoking. The film not only sheds light on the challenges faced by UPSC aspirants but also addresses the flaws within the Indian education system. It serves as a reminder that success is not always immediate, and sometimes, it’s the journey and the lessons learned along the way that truly matter. “12th Fail” is a must-watch for anyone seeking a heartfelt, engaging, and authentic cinematic experience.
12th Fail Movie Review
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra