In recent news, an increasingly troubling narrative surrounding the stress and competition among teenagers in India’s education system has been cast into the public eye. Tragically, a Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) aspirant’s suicide note became viral two weeks ago, marking the second such incident within a month in the city of Kota, a place notoriously famous for its rigorous coaching centres prepping youth for engineering exams. In an almost serendipitous timing, the trailer of the film “All India Rank” was released a week following this incident – a film that is the directorial debut of the renowned writer, lyricist, and comedian Varun Grover.

Our conversation with Grover naturally gravitates towards the intense pressure faced by 17-year-olds in the Indian educational landscape. Grover provides a poignant perspective on the situation, remarking, “Kids feeling pushed to harm themselves is a symptom of a much deeper issue.” He addresses the narrow timeline given to children to define their career paths and the claustrophobic tunnel that they are forced into if they don’t conform to societal expectations. Grover points out that the collective force exerted by parents, the educational community, and peer environment has led to this high-pressure scenario. He is critical of the amplification of IIT success stories, where high pay packages become the trigger for many, compelling them towards a single definition of success that may not align with their personal growth or understanding of self, especially at an age where they’re just entering adulthood.

The film “All India Rank” is set in the 1990s and tracks the journey of Vivek, a 17-year-old played by Bodhisattva Sharma, who bears the weight of his family’s hopes for him to secure a place at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). For Grover, the movie is more than just a story to be told; it’s a vessel for personal catharsis. He says, “With this film, I’ve tried to make sense of who I am.” The film is a reflection of Grover’s own past, as he sought to reconnect with his younger self – a teenager who loved physics for its beauty, and not as a commodity, and who dreamed of being a writer despite not seeing it as a viable career path while growing up in Lucknow. Grover’s experience during his journey of becoming an IITian, where the inherent joy of learning was overshadowed by the utility of the subject, is ingrained in the narrative of the film, where he seeks emotional closure.

Interestingly, the film’s release on February 23 serves as a counter-narrative to Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s film “12th Fail” (2023), which tells the story of an IPS aspirant’s struggle. Initially, there was a concern that the themes may overlap, but Grover found relief in their distinct messages. While “12th Fail” is inspirational and contributes to the glorification of success, “All India Rank” poses as its philosophical counterpoint, addressing the outcry for a systemic reassessment of educational and societal expectations, family pressures, governmental policy, and the very framework within which the Indian education system operates.

In summary, Varun Grover’s “All India Rank” is both a personal exploration and a social commentary, challenging the myopic view of success and its consequences on the youth. It’s a call for introspection for parents, educators, policymakers, and all stakeholders involved in shaping the lives and futures of children—questioning the very nature of our education systems and the values we impart. With its thoughtful approach and Grover’s authenticity, the film aspires to shift perspectives and start much-needed dialogues across Indian households and institutions.

By IPL Agent

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