Review | Vidhu Vinod Chopra's '12th Fail' will inspire you to 'restart'

Undoubtedly, this is Vikrant Massey's best performance to date. Kudos to the entire cast for supporting him with some of their finest performances. Photo | Imdb

Anshumaan Pushkar as Gauri Bayya tells aspirants of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) cramped into his single room at Mukherjee Nagar in Delhi that the Civil Services Examination is a game of snake and ladder and once a snake brings them back to where they began, then it's ‘restart’ - “Zero se karo restart.” You'll encounter this mantra repeatedly in the second half, as Manoj Kumar Sharma (Vikrant Massey) strives to crack the Civil Services. By the time the credits roll in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's '12th Fail,' you'll find yourself applauding and almost shouting "restart."

'12th Fail,' directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and based on Anurag Pathak's book of the same name, narrates the inspiring real-life journey of IPS officer Manoj Kumar Sharma. The film starts in Bilgaon village, Chambal, and follows Vikrant's Manoj on his quest to become an honest IPS officer who can bring about change, "if not in the entire nation, at least in the district where he is stationed."

Vidhu Vinod Chopra's script draws a clear map of Manoj's world, assisting actors and other technical departments to provide their best. Undoubtedly, this is Vikrant Massey's best performance to date. Kudos to the entire cast for supporting him with some of their finest performances. The interactions between the characters feel authentic and true to life. Cinematographer Rangarajan Ramabadran's frames capture the raw, rustic essence of life and are infused with warm shadows, vividly portraying the everyday struggles of the nation's common people.

The conventional editing style occasionally disrupts the viewing experience. However, when it breaks away from the pattern and lingers on a shot, it creates cinematic and emotional magic. Scenes like Manoj's grandmother (Sarita Joshi) calling him to her room to give him the money she saved for his dream of becoming an honest police officer like his grandfather and father (Harish Khanna), and the scene with his mother (Geeta Aggarwal Sharma) when he returns home after failing three UPSC attempts, or the climax when his love interest Shraddha (Medha Shankar) delivers the news that he has cleared the UPSC, become even more heartwarming, thanks to the decision to reduce the cuts by Jaskunwar Kohli and Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

The soundscape, meticulously crafted by Manav Shrotriya, amplifies the aches and joys of Manoj's journey. The way Manav uses and reuses background noise fading in and out to isolate Manoj and his emotions even in crowded scenes adds a meditative focus. While not as imposing, some of these moments strike a deep chord, similar to Stephen Hopkins' famous locker room scene from 'Race' where Larry Snyder teaches Jesse Owens to block out the noise.

The characters in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's '12th Fail' occasionally resemble those from some of his well-known works for Rajkumar Hirani. For instance, when the UPSC interview board questions Manoj about his honesty in admitting to failing the 12th standard on his first attempt and later passing in the 3rd division, he borrows lines from Raju Rastogi's (Sharman Joshi) campus interview in '3 Idiots,' explaining to the board that it took him 19 years to realize the value of honesty.

Priyanshu Chatterjee's positivity, determination, and dialogues have a similar inspirational quality like those of Sanjay in Munna Bhai and Aamir in '3 Idiots.' These scenes may seem somewhat preachy, but that's a common trait of motivated individuals; they are eager to share their realizations and drive change. Anant Joshi's (Joshi Anantvijay) decision to pursue journalism, following his passion, may remind you of Farhan Qureshi (R Madhavan) from '3 Idiots.'

The characters in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's '12th Fail' occasionally resemble those from some of his well-known works for Rajkumar Hirani

Throughout the movie, Vidhu Vinod Chopra uses symbolism to depict the life and struggles of Manoj and those like him. The double barrel (donalli) that belonged to his grandfather, his brother's makeshift vehicle (jugaad traveller), DSP Dushyant's ability to command a barking dog into silence, and Gaouri Bayya's tea stall all convey their own unique stories. However, the most poignant symbol is the transformation of Manoj's dream of clearing the UPSC from fantasy to reality as he advances on his path. The fantasy begins when Manoj meets Anant Joshi at Gwalior railway station, who agrees to take him to Delhi.

Once in Delhi, Manoj's journey accelerates as he meets Gaouri, the mentor of Hindi medium aspirants, who helps him secure a job in a library where he works during the day and immerses himself in books at night, which aids in his preparations. As he progresses, the fantasy begins to fade, revealing the harsh reality and the grind of Manoj's pursuit. He faces failure in his first three attempts, loses his job at the library, and is forced to work at a dingy flour mill cut away from his friends. Through all these hardships, a diamond emerges. This inspiring journey makes '12th Fail' a must-watch by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

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