Mayank Shekhar's Review: Paathshaala

By Hindustan Times

Film: Paathshaala
Director: Milind Ukey
Actors: Shahid Kapoor, Ayesha Takia, Nana Patekar
Rating: *

A dark-skinned boy with a huge wart on his face smeared in boot-polish hangs around alone, friendless in his school. He makes buddies instead with stray dogs of the neighbourhood. The hero, an English teacher who doubles up as a music instructor (Shahid Kapoor), notices this.

He invites all other kids to a party of street pups, and shows them how this boy can instantly warm up to the hush puppies. The poor kid can make canine friends. Surely his classmates can make friends with him. Hmmm. The point is well taken by all, though entirely mistaken by the audience. You look on clueless. Another child is made to stand under the sun as punishment for not paying his school fees on time. His poor father shakes and grovels before a potbellied baldie called “management” (Saurabh Shukla). No mercies are granted. The dad has a couple of hours to cough up the amount.

On the certificate of the Censor Board, of which Ms Sharmila Tagore is a fine chairperson, this film’s title reads Get Educated – Paathshaala. Newspapers clips, in the opening credits, announce alarming student suicide rates in the country. It appears first an entertaining docket to promote Mr Kapil Sabil’s education reforms, in particular the inclusive Right To Education Bill that seeks reservation for the poor in elitist private schools. The idea is certainly noble. Films Division won’t do cinematic justice to such an urgent cause. No such luck here however. Of course.

The school here is low on funds. Education, like health, law (even journalism), constantly battle conflicts between being a profession, or a business alone. Practicalities eventually take over.

So, suddenly, music instruments and basketballs are handed out not to the best players in the school, but to the ‘best payers’. Canteen rates go up. As do hostel fees. This is after enough teenaged flirting, campus romance, cheery songs and short-skirt dances have been displayed in equal measure to sell this film itself. An education you get around this hotchpotch flick is Shahid Kapoor’s bizarre choices at script selection alone (this, after Chance Pe Dance as a dance-instructor the same year).

His school is sold to the malicious marketer. Brand-builders, PR agents and management gurus crack open their laptops in the school board meet. The principal (Nana Patekar) says he had "no any other alternative." The masti ki pathshala is turned into the dirty trustee ki pathshala.

Kids are enrolled into television serials as extras, while the school serves as location. Children are asked to host a cookery show. The director keeps the camera rolling as the kid-anchor screams with red chilli powder over her eyes. Students are picked at random for a music talent-hunt. That boy with the wart on his face makes it for sympathy ratings he’s likely to bring to the television channel. The bombastic exaggeration, even by severe Bollywood standards, bowls you over. TRP is indeed the growling villain.

The moment these students mildly revolt, and apparently rock up Mumbai’s Mantralaya, becomes for radio and television stations a “black day in India's history, biggest news of the century…” Huh. Bread-butter films of every generation have produced a common enemy the audiences can rally against week after week. It makes life for us (and screenwriters) relatively easy. We’ve had zamindars and moneylenders in the ‘50s, rich dads and smugglers in the ‘70s, politicians and police in the ‘80s…. At this point, the social villain, a convenient root to all our problems, is the commercialised media alone: television as news and entertainment, in particular. The assertion isn't entirely misplaced. Television can't look beyond a few devises to pass of as entertainment, or sometimes news. I suspect filmmakers can't look beyond the addictive television they watch all day to think up a plot either. Cycle’s pretty vicious. Rent’s got to be paid. Ms Soni, and not Mr Sibal, may prefer this hilarious pic.

Bollywood.com Rating: 2

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