Art & Entertainment

Varun Grover: 'All India Rank' Explores Middle Class Mentality Of Chasing Bigger Dreams

Is it worth it to make children go through the pressure of competitive exams? That is the question writer-comedian Varun Grover, who himself went through a coaching school to prep for the IITs, explores in his debut film 'All India Rank'.

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Lyricist and screenwriter Varun Grover Photo: Instagram
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Is it worth it to make children go through the pressure of competitive exams? That is the question writer-comedian Varun Grover, who himself went through a coaching school to prep for the IITs, explores in his debut film 'All India Rank'.

Mirroring the many stresses of students in the coaching hub of Kota, frequently in the headlines for aspirants taking their own lives, Grover says his 1990s-set film explores the Indian middle class fascination with "constantly chasing bigger dreams".

Two decades later, the narrative of crushing pressure from parents and society stays pretty much the same.

"This story has been brewing in my mind for two decades. I have always wondered whether it is worth it to make children go through the pressure of competitive exams. They are somehow made to feel that if they don't ace it, their life is over," Grover told PTI in an interview.

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"It was a very stressful period of my life," Grover, who studied civil engineering in IIT-BHU before deciding to follow his heart in the creative field of cinema, said.

Rooted in 90s nostalgia and distilled from his own experiences as a teenager, the film went through several drafts before Grover could finally gather courage to finally take the plunge as director.

According to the first time director, the film was also an opportunity to revisit a simpler, pre-internet era that was just beginning to change.

"It is difficult to get rid of the nostalgia of those years whether it's Kumar Sanu, Alisha Chinai's songs or old Doordarshan serials. I really like the simplicity of the era where you could ride a cycle to the park, meet your friends and gossip for hours instead of trawling the internet for doomsday stories or social media likes," Grover, who is in his 40s, recalled.

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The idea of getting into the middle class psyche, which had started to abandon the security and permanence of government jobs in search of bigger dreams of IIT, IIMs and foreign jobs in a post liberalised India, was interesting, he said.

"The film tries to dive into the layers of the middle class mentality of constantly chasing bigger dreams," he said, adding that the mushrooming of the coaching centres began in the 1990s.

"That's what the film is about and that's what was very fascinating for me to explore," he added.

"We keep reading something or the other about how a child ends up self harming or go through such stress... We should understand that at the age of 16-17, you should not let your child go through such pressure... Our entire education system is unfair and extremely stressful for children."

'All India Rank', starring mostly new faces and slated to release in theatres on February 23, revolves around 17-year-old Vivek Singh, who is packed off by his family to a coaching centre in Kota in the late 1990s to prepare for the IIT entrance exams.

Grover broke out as a lyricist with 2012's 'Gangs of Wasseypur' and then wrote the critically-acclaimed script of 'Masaan', directed by Neeraj Ghaywan.

He said he wrote the initial draft in 2014 and the script was selected in NFDC Script Lab, which came as a "big confidence boost" that he was on the right path.

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"I knew nothing about direction and the question was, 'How will I direct? So when 'Sacred Games' was being shot, I started learning on the sets...," he said.

Screenwriter Jaideep Sahni also read Grover's script and sent it to producers Matchbox Shots as well as filmmaker Sriram Raghavan.

By the time Matchbox got involved, Grover said he had gained confidence. Raghavan is presenting the film.

The multi-hyphenate, who also runs comedy group Aisi Taisi Democracy with Sanjay Rajoura and Rahul Ram, hopes his film conveys the message that "it's not worth it" to put pressure on children to ace highly competitive exams because "it scars them for life".

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The crew had decided early on that they will only audition students from north India because they had not been born in the 90s but grew up seeing the world either through their parents.

"We found the actor (Bodhisattva Sharma) to play Vivek after auditioning over 1,000 candidates," he said.

As the film inches closer to its release date, there is a sense of relief but also nervousness.

"I am feeling like I used to when I had only math and science papers left before the beginning of long summer holidays. I am planning to take a break and just travel and sleep for two months after this."

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Grover is confident about the film he has made and hopes that viewers, who have been mostly turning up in theatres to watch big budget blockbusters, also turn up to see this film.

"There should be space for intimate, personal stories too in cinema. People discover good films later. They should not watch it on OTT later and wonder why the film did not release in theatres."

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