All India Rank review: Varun Grover makes a tender, audience-pleasing debut | Bollywood

Lyricist Varun Grover makes a confident and charming directorial debut with All India Rank, the opening film of the 12th Dharamshala International Film Festival. Set in 1997, it begins by explaining the components of Euler's identity, considered the most beautiful equation in mathematics. ei π + 1 = 0. Animated number figures appear on the screen to gently illustrate this point. We soon realize that the voiceover is that of a 17-year-old Vivek Singh (Bodhisattva Sharma), who is sent away from home to prepare for IIT. (Also Read: Agra review: Kanu Behl confronts sexual oppression in the boldest and most vital film of the year)

The condition

All India Rank premiered at the Dharamshala International Film Festival 2023.

Vivek doesn’t know what his dreams are. He was always the best in his school and somehow his father RK Singh (Shashi Bhushan) knew that Vivek would make it to IIT. His mother Manju (Geeta Agrawal) has no say in the matter. Grover creates this middle-class family with his trademark sense of wit. The father has to control his urge to smoke while the mother has high cholesterol, but that doesn't stop her from eating sweets. Vivek seems that the only thing they have control over is his fate. And so he goes from his sheltered home in Lucknow to the land of IITian makers – Kota. From here, his journey takes shape in diverse and colorful ways.

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Varun, who is an IIT-BHU graduate himself, crafts this semi-autobiographical film without any formulaic coming-of-age genre elements. Yes, there are the select few friends who are there as company. There is also the concentrated and hard-working student Samta Sudiksha, who slowly comes closer to Vivek's honesty. But even with familiar accents, Grover is able to create a touch of freshness and nostalgic moments of intimate moments.

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The killer lies in the attention to detail. Grover creates the setting brilliantly. The year is 1997, so cell phones are nowhere near these faces. If you needed to make a call, you would have to mark the nearest phone booth. However, it is the same element of the phone booth where an incident branches out that later lands Manju in trouble. (A subplot that seems a bit drawn out after a while.) RK Singh also suffers at work. But while these threads tie into the thematic concerns of All India Rank, it sometimes tends to drain the story's energy.

What works

Working with cinematographer Archana Ghangrekar, Grover constructs this world with care and grace. There is not a hint of sentimentality creeping into the design of this debut. Special mention goes to Mayukh-Mainak for the effective use of the songs, with the best saved for last in Vishal Bharadwaj's inimitable baritone.

As Vivek, Bodhisattva Sharma delivers a beautiful performance, carefully highlighting the awkwardness and childlike innocence of his behavior. Then there are Sashi Bhushan and Geeta Agarwal who play Vivek's parents. It's clear on screen how much care and thought Grover put into building these two people. Their scenes together exude a casual, joyful truth. A very special moment occurs when the father breaks out into a spirited “Shaktiman” step to tell her that he is always there, no matter what. I found myself smiling ear to ear.

There's a high chance that All India Rank will remind you of recent dramas like Aspirants and Kota Factory, but what sets this film apart is its willingness to accept that not everyone may have the answer Is provided. But you have to keep asking questions and looking for that element of intrigue and wonder. Grover has created a hugely crowd-pleasing debut with a tender and gigantic heart. The goal is simple. Trace the magic equation where the heart and head fit together somewhere. Until then, explore.

Santanu Das is covering the 12th Dharamshala International Film Festival as part of the accredited media.

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