This Bollywood trivia may seem wholly unrelated to Super 30, the film, but please just bear with me. In the good ol’ 80s, when the women of Bollywood knew that their sole aim in life was to bounce off the manicured lawns of Vrindavan Gardens for the viewing pleasure of Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra and their ilk, we were treated to a gem called Nazrana. In this film about the incidental philandering of a man, Sridevi plays a domestic help in a rich man’s house. Every morning, before leaving for work, the radiant Sridevi dabs generous amount of shoe polish all over her face and body to make her look suitably ‘domestic-helpish’ and in the words of the character herself, “ugly”. Because if you are poor, apparently you have to be dark; and if you are dark, apparently you are ugly.
The makers of Super 30 seem to operate in the same rigid binaries. Which is a bit ridiculous because the film is a biopic of Anand Kumar (you can find out more about him here). But then, artistic liberty toh banta hai. Here, in true spirit of Manoj Kumar films, good people are god-like and bad people are worse than, in the wise words of Kangana Ranaut, anti-national journalists. You know Anand Kumar is a good man the very first moment he appears on screen. A bootpolished Hrithik twitches and shifts his weight from one foot to another because he is now a nerdy college student from Patna. We know it’s Patna because all men in the frame wear checked polyester shirts, brown half-sweaters and pleated pants. We also know it’s Patna because the Mehboob studio set, with its derelict havelis and hutments, has been doused in boot polish to ‘look Bihari’ (just like its lead actor).
After winning all major mathematics prizes from a corrupt politician (Pankaj Tripathi), the carefree Roshan rushes to meet his younger-than-his-film-career love interest, Mrunal Thakur. She is, of course, taking kathak classes in a quaint haveli in slow motion like all beautiful girls in Santoor ads do.
You half expect the duo to break into ‘idhar chala main udhar chala’, but this is 2019, so all the gaana has to be played in the background.
Anand Kumar has a doting father, a roti-making machine of a mother, and a brother whose prosthetic nose has been designed to match Hrithik’s straighter-than-an-arrow nasal bridge. But because he is poor and he can’t afford a foreign education, he is destined to a life of hardship in the gullies of Patna. As his father dies and his hardship compounds, the shade of Hrithik Roshan’s shoe polish facial gets darker. Next you know, he is selling papad on the streets, wrapped with his Cambridge University offer letter, and the background singers are screeching their lungs out. Just so that you don’t miss out on the dramatic intensity of the scene, the woman who buys the Cambridge University brand papad from Hrithik Roshan, flings the wrapper in the glowing embers of a chulha. A lone drop of despair flows from Hrithik’s eyes.
Eventually, a man in a suit bumps into Krrish 4, sorry Anand Kumar, and offers him a job at his coaching centre. Even before you see him, you know he is a Gulshan Grover figure because the background music is telling you so. What follows is a series of predictable sequences which just glosses over important life events of the celebrated mathematician’s life. He becomes a successful coaching centre teacher, he is earning a lot, he buys a gold chain for himself, gets his roti-machine mother a domestic help, and has a life-changing moment when he sees a poor boy studying under street lights.
None of these events have the emotional heft or the intensity to draw the audience in. Even KRK had better grasp over his screenplay in Deshdrohi. The titular Super 30 students are given no back story, no character motivation, no screen time. We don’t know anything about their journey. The sequences are more like a series of ZEE News features crossed with Zee Horror Show soundtrack. The emotional manipulation is so evident that you feel embarrassed for the people associated. It’s not for nothing that #MeToo-accused director, Vikas Bahl, latches on to one rather silly scene in the middle, when the irreproachable Anand Kumar is falsely accused of sexual harassment. He treats it like a joke, a thing men with mission have to brush off in their journey to greatness.
Faced with a poor script and an average screenplay, most directors and actors might want to disguise the shoddiness of what they’ve been given. Here the director and Hrithik Roshan do the opposite: they surrender to it with the abandon of a Sandeep ‘Kabir Singh’ Vanga heroine.
If the movie had set out with the intention of cruel mockery of its subjects, it would be a triumph.
With Super 30 Bahl mistakes caricature for characters, and ignorance for insight. In the process, he makes a great case for why Bollywood should be barred from even thinking of taking up biopics. Just kidding. We can’t call for bans on anything yet. We are not Kangana Ranaut.