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All India Rank Sets Itself Apart From Shows Like Kota Factory, Aspirants With Fragmented Methods

Screenwriter and lyricist Varun Grover makes his felicitous directorial debut with All India Rank, a narrative of a disinclined IIT aspirant’s lethargic coming-of-age set in the years following India’s economic reform.

With its subdued, unwaveringly anti-formulaic, and disjointed techniques, All India Rank distinguishes itself from the web series Kota Factory and Aspirants as well as a movie similar to 12th Fail. It is both endearing and thought-provoking. With creative animation breaks thrown in, it avoids formulaic plot points and a clumsy conclusion.

Instead, All India Rank chooses to keep the protagonist’s destiny open-ended, observing the teenage boy’s year-long journey as he prepares for the IIT-JEE exam (against his own advice) with compassion and without passing judgement.

The film, which was written by Grover himself, is a subdued, almost revelatory, study of the psyche of a middle-class youngster who is driven to the breaking point by his father, who views his only child as the family’s inevitable ticket to the social status and bragging rights that it has never enjoyed.

While All India Rank is primarily about a young boy struggling with the confusing equations of life and education brought on by his demanding father, it is also a nostalgic look back at a decade that saw India change more quickly than it had since Independence. The boy’s mother is also more than willing to let him choose his own path in life.

According to the boy’s father, Vivek, a 17-year-old from Lucknow, is sent to Kota for “coaching ka Haridwar” (Bodhisattva Sharma in his first leading role). The department of telecommunications engineer father, R.K. Singh (Shashi Bhushan), is consumed with wanting to see his kid succeed at IIT.

Like a lot of parents before and after him, Mr. Singh thinks he can live through his son and satisfy his own unfulfilled goals. He doesn’t even bother to inquire about the child’s goals in life. The youngster is personally escorted to Kota by him.

There are still a few years until the next millennium. It’s not Vivek’s style to make himself heard. His raging hormones divert his attention from the task at hand and a pair of cynical coaching centre mates expose him to temptations he was hitherto shielded from. But his father’s stern voice never leaves him alone.

Vivek has to find salvation in Kota, a town that was on the verge of disappearing completely until its IIT-JEE teaching ecosystem saved it and brought it to national prominence—or notoriety, depending on your point of view.

His action is purely physical and blatantly resentful. Even after finding a room in a boys’ dormitory and enrolling in a coaching centre managed by Kalpana Bundela (Sheeba Chaddha), one of the best in the business and an expert at inspiring the candidates under her supervision, he is never really present mentally or emotionally.

Even as the demanding coaching process wears him down, Vivek makes new pals. Additionally, he feels the first wave of teenage love. His true love, Sarika (Samta Sudiksha, who made her film debut in Good Luck Jerry starring Janhvi Kapoor), is an IIT candidate who has much more focus than he has.

At home, Vivek’s mother Manju (Geeta Agrawal Sharma), who runs a PCO booth, meets a youngster who presents a challenging situation, and Vivek’s father deals with a difficulty at work.

Vivek’s journey of discovery is not modelled after the rites of passage films by All India Rank. It breaks free from the confines of the typical genre register. It offers an experiential investigation of the influence that the “success” industry may have on impressionable minds, rather than pandering to the expectations of the viewer.

Production designer Prachi Deshpande makes the 1990s come to life with a variety of props and real, tactile elements. You are immediately taken back in time when you see Gabriela Sabatini pin-ups in a dorm room, bottles of Maaza, video game parlours, PCO booths, and the name of the then-prime minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, on a wall.

In unobtrusive fashion, Vinit D’Souza’s sound design, Mayukh-Mainak’s songs and background score, and Varun Grover’s lyrics celebrate a relatively carefree era that was about to change drastically for both the boy at the film’s centre and the country as a whole as it marked the country’s 50th anniversary of independence.

Among the things that first come to mind are the joking title song of the detective show Tehkikaat, passing allusions to Doordarshan’s superhero Shaktimaan, the news of Princess Diana’s passing, and Vividh Bharati’s comedic show Hawa Mahal.

A song (Bas ek ann ka yeh daana sukh dega mujhko manmana) from a short film created by the J.S. Bhownagary era’s Films Division, which was based on a Mahabharata episode and featured the creative contributions of animation pioneer Ram Mohan and composer Vijay Raghav Rao, is also included in the soundtrack. In the 1990s, the song reappeared on radio, urging listeners to refrain from wasting food.

A country in the midst of a significant shift is captured by All India Rank. A nation where people tended to seek employment in their hometowns or nearby locations and study at local universities and institutions was starting to give way to a nation that was becoming more globally integrated.

India was opening up, letting the youth come out of their shells in search of better opportunities—at least those who were aware of the conversion taking place. In a sense, Vivek represents the pain of that change on a personal level.

The three ladies who surround Vivek, especially the teacher who employs the most persuasive techniques to encourage her students to think critically, are at the centre of another important plot point in the movie.

Compared to his father, Vivek’s mother had a quite different psychology. Like Sarika, she has a calming effect on Vivek as well. But the boy’s moments of personal pleasure are greatly outweighed by the uncertainties of mathematics and the educational system.

All India Rank is full of incredibly stunning details that make it more than the sum of its parts and transform it into an insightful, comprehensive memorial to a period of change. Watch it because it transports you to a place that few Hindi films ever venture into: a place where concepts, emotions, and subtly expressed conflicts supersede the demands of narrative and explanation.

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