I really really like the message of this movie! And it is a message that the trailers and advertisements for some reason didn’t make clear. I’m gonna spoil it in this post, but I honestly think that being spoiled might make you more interested in watching the film than going in unspoiled. But, you know, you do you! Read this review if you want to remain unspoiled.
Whole Plot in One Paragraph:
In the present day, Sushant and Shraddha are divorced and co-parenting their teenage son Mohammad Samad with Sushant as the primary parent. Mohammad fails the national IIT exams, does not get in. He gets the results while with a friend, his parents try to reassure him over the phone that it will be fine, but he gets increasingly upset and impulsively lets himself fall off the balcony. He is in the hospital in a coma, but not recovering. Sushant decides to start telling him honestly about his college days. He tells him how he was assigned to the worst hostel on campus and made friends with wacky people who goofed off and were funny and embarrassing and flawed. The “losers” on campus. His son responds to the story but doesn’t seem to believe it, so Sushant calls up his friends and asks them to come visit and share their part of the story and prove that it is true. In the past, Shraddha arrives on campus and Sushant first takes to her as part of a hazing game. And then keeps talking to her, pretending that “my seniors want me to have coffee with you, take you to the movies, etc.” Shraddha is won over and they start to date. In the hostel, Sushant gets a family of his own with his group of friends. And then he is invited to join the best hostel on campus, thanks to his athletic ability. He decides to turn it down and stay with his friends and the other hostel people start to hate him. He talks to Tahir Raj Bhasin, the oldest student in the hostel and the coolest one there and discovers that the reason they are considered the “worst” hostel on campus is because they always come last in the intercollege competition. Sushant decides that they should actually try this year and he and Tahir inspire the other students. They use distractions and tricks along with actually being good in a few areas to crawl up the rankings until finally they are only a few points away from winning. The evil hostel tries dirty tricks to stop them, but they overcome and are 2 points from winning. And then lose at the last minute. But the other team gives them a round of applause for trying. In the present, Sushant insists that it is important to finish the story before Mohammad goes into surgery. And then we jump a year ahead and discover that Mohammad recovered and is starting college. He doesn’t care what college it is, he is just there to live his life.
Do you get the message? Sushant was assigned to the “loser” hostel and chose to stay there because they made him happy, they were his family. They try to win the intercollegiate championship, they try their hardest, and they lose. And that’s okay. It’s okay to try your hardest and lose, that’s life. What’s important is to just be happy in the moment.
It’s on the nose in the ending, of course they are going to try and try and lose, I could feel that ending coming. But what I really liked is the way the message is seeded through out, you never have to choose the hard path, you can always try what makes you happy. Early on, Sushant is terrified of ragging from the seniors at the hostel. It starts with the freshman being ordered to dance for the seniors. And then Varun Sharma, the senior who is organizing the ragging, interrupts and shows them how it’s done, dances for them. And Sushant realizes he doesn’t have to be scared. No one hates him, no one wants to hurt him, nothing bad is going to happen and there is nothing to be scared of. And that’s okay, fear and stress doesn’t have to be part of the college life. Naveen Polishetty plays the angriest student at the hostel, who is struggling in all his classes and has developed an amazing ability to swear. But within the hostel, the failure in the classes is secondary, he’s appreciated for his swearing. That’s his identity, not as a failure. Even Shraddha, her character is the prettiest girl on campus. But she likes Sushant because she likes him, she doesn’t have any need to find a “better” guy. The college days are about figuring out what your values are, what you want from life, how to be yourself in the world and be happy. It’s the first time you discover that the values and rules you thought you had to live by aren’t the only option.
There’s another message too, the value of trying. Not because of what you win but because of what you gain along the way. Saharsh Kumar Shukla plays another upperclassman in the hostel who is an alcoholic. He offers to give up drinking until they win the intercollegiate championship. And lands in the hospital with withdrawal, which is when he confesses he had tried to quite many times before, but this was the best he had ever done, because he felt like he was doing it for a reason. Sushant promises to give up talking to Shraddha until they win, and it ends up making them closer when they have to communicate without talking. Most of all, it brings the hostel together, makes them feel happier and stronger in themselves because they did something.
So we have two messages, but they are really just one. The point isn’t success or failure, it’s just living your life and finding the good where you can along the way. A failure isn’t really a failure because there is always something gained. And a success isn’t just one thing, it is the culmination of many things.
And this is what bothers me about the Indian educational testing system! If the point is passing or failing the test, than that means what you learned along the way as you prepared for the test has no value at all. And that means, therefore, the test has no value. Which means they have all the value. If what you learned has no value unless you pass, then if you fail your entire life has no value. Because exams are such an important part of your life, and how you do on one test at age 19 affects the rest of your entire life, this attitude translates into everything. That one moment is the most important, or your life is over.
Which brings me to suicide. When a teenager says “if my girlfriend breaks up with me, my life is over”, they think that is really true. They cannot imagine a future if this one thing doesn’t happen as they expect it to happen. And when your parents and everyone else around you are reinforcing that message, that is very dangerous. Especially when it feels like even your parents love is conditional on you doing well. Yes, you need to try in life. Yes, you need to take your future seriously. But no, your life is never over. Everything can still work out, no matter how bad things look right now.
The movie goes round and round to get to the point, but it is really simple and shown early on. Sushant shows his son a bottle he bought for them to share in celebration after his results. He means it to be a nice moment of supportive fathering, showing he has faith in his son. But the message Mohammad gets is “I am counting on you to do well, there is no other option.” Sushant later in the film breaks down thinking about that moment and realizing what he should have said was “pass or fail, we will have a drink together”.
Movies, especially Indian movies, tend to give the edit that does not allow for failure. The son declares to the father that he will pass the test, or to the girlfriend that he will marry her, whatever that great thing is that they have to achieve. And then the hero achieves that goal, and that’s what makes him a hero. That’s also the edit that people tend to give to their own lives. Especially parents talking to children.
Your child sees you as a hero. And that’s addictive and wonderful, it’s fun to make yourself a hero in their eyes. In this film, Mohammad is obsessed with his parents both being “rankers”, being on the top of the test ranks. That’s how he sees them.
Sushant is a good father, he isn’t a misunderstanding Dad or a demanding or abusive father. We see them together, playing and talking and being close. It’s an interesting and important choice for the film to make Sushant the one who has custody. In another simpler film, he would be demanding and abusive and bad. But no, he is a really good parent. He fully commits to being the primary parent, cooks and jokes and keeps track of his son’s schedule. His only flaw is that he didn’t think to talk about the dark side of life, the dark side of his life, to his son. He kept everything light and happy and safe. And most of the time, that is being a good parent. The divorce for instance, we see both Shraddha and Sushant keep that darkness away from Mohammad, there is no anger or bitterness or going over how it went wrong. And that’s good. But when it comes to life, you do have to somehow let your child know that not everything in your life is okay, not everything is perfect, and that’s okay.
That’s what this movie is showing. You have to talk to your kids, even if its hard, and let them know that life isn’t always perfect, that you aren’t perfect, that your life wasn’t perfect. Teach by example, give them the tools to deal with it when life doesn’t work out. The college stories in this film, they aren’t just a timepass or filler while Mohammad recovers, they are the stories that Sushant should have been telling him all along, letting him know that life isn’t always perfect but it can still be good.
One final thing that hit me as I was watching the end credits for the film and I’m not sure what to do about it. The producer of this film Sajid Nadiawala’s 19 year old wife Divya Bharti died the same way Mohammed tries to kill himself, tipping off the balcony ledge and falling to the ground. It’s not clear if it was an accident or suicide. Witnesses say she was drunk when they left her, she could have just lost her balance. Or she could have been yet another 19 year old who decided her “life is over” for a reason that wasn’t really that tragic. It’s an odd coincidence that Sajid is now producing a movie about a 19 year old having the same fall and recovering. And I wonder, does he tell his children this story? I think he does. In the few interviews with Divya’s parents and Sajid about her death, they talk about how Sajid’s kids with his second wife know Divya’s parents, and therefore know about Divya. This could all just be a coincidence, Sajid produces a handful of movies a year, maybe he didn’t think much about this particular film. Maybe it isn’t about anything deep, maybe it is just about the way that 19 year olds in one moment of accident or decision can end their lives simply because they are 19.