I SAT UP IN ALARM when the Censor’s Certificate appeared. The movie I was watching was apparently titled Get Educated – Paathshaala. The hyphenated title is a Bollywood genre in the making, and I’m fairly certain future historians will light on the 1999 film Daag – The Fire as its locus classicus, but it invariably makes me want to run in the opposite direction. The film begins with a rain of newspaper clippings whose purpose, I suspect, was to let us know education is in crisis, and that the filmmakers read The Times of India. We then see the grim-visaged principal (Nana Patekar) giving himself a pep-talk. The rest of the film is devoted to uncovering the mystery — though the cat ambles in and out of the bag.
The school changes character overnight. Brand managers are brought in, the students audition for reality shows, and the school goes to pot. Shahid Kapoor plays a factoryfresh English teacher whose brow develops deep furrows as a result of these changes; Ayesha Takia and Anjan Srivastava lead the rest of the cast in providing anguished expressions in support. Kapoor eventually launches satyagraha and everything is magically sorted out. And Patekar, who has spent most of the film with his face turned away in a grizzled scowl, finally smiles.
The problem with the film is an endless majoring in the minors. Much energy is expended in achieving an overall cuteness — the film’s characters are introduced in a series of slam-book pages, the intermission is titled ‘Recess’, Kapoor’s skills as English and Music teacher are to be gauged from the fact that he sings a song which turns a bunch of furniture-decapitating young sods into blissedout groupies, and some anonymous woman warbles wordlessly on the soundtrack to signpost intense moments. Such old-fashioned things as allowing the script to provide movement or define problems go out of the window. The film’s engagement with the all-round idiocy that besets education in India is thus laughably off-target. And a bunch of possible sub-plots that might have saved it stay still-born. All in all, a god-awful pill.