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12th Fail Review: Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Latest Is A Vikrant Massey Show All The Way

Vikrant Massey is the pivotal emotional anchor of this uplifting but occasionally predictable film.

12th Fail Review: Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Latest Is A Vikrant Massey Show All The Way
Vikrant Massey in 12th Fail

Last Updated: 08.19 PM, Oct 26, 2023


WHEN Vikrant Massey smiles, the entire frame lights up. When Vikrant Massey emotes, you feel things in the pit of your stomach. Which is why Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s latest film, 12th Fail, is a Massey show, all the way. It has all the ingredients of a commercial tearjerker: an underdog protagonist; the big brutal system of corruption and bureaucracy; a small-town man who migrates to Delhi with big dreams in his eyes only to realise dreams don’t pay the rent; the triumph of truth over systemic dishonesty.

But in an age of small, consumable content to cater to our even smaller attention spans, is a story of this nature worth a trip to theatres? For Vikrant Massey, yes. But if you take him out of the equation, the real life story of IPS officer Manoj Kumar Sharma — from Chambal in Madhya Pradesh, who failed his Class 12 exams but went on to become a police officer — would make for a fantastic one-minute Reel on Instagram. I can already hear the background music and visualise the edits.

The film begins with an introduction to life in Chambal: corruption, guns and village folk who are accustomed to look the other way. Not Manoj’s father, though, who is a government official and refuses to be complicit in the corruption of the village. He gets suspended for his actions, but his courage inspires Manoj, who learns the value of honesty at a very young age. To fulfil his dream of being an honest IPS officer, he moves from Chambal to New Delhi and that’s when his hardships begin.


In this typical David vs Goliath narrative, there’s nothing unpredictable that we see in the form of Manoj’s hardships. From failing multiple attempts in his UPSC exams, to getting rejected by his love interest, to cleaning toilets, studying under street lamps — the entire movie is peppered with opportune moments meant to make the climax seem worth it. And it really does. Because the build up is not dramatic, so that the climax can be. 12th Fail is beautifully written, championing the small moments: when Manoj enters the maze-like chaos of New Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar. A stolen look shared between two UPSC aspirants. Unlikely, delicate friendships formed against the backdrop of shared trauma. Shraddha (Medha Shankar) and Manoj’s love story, that rises above mainstream stereotypes; so when she says, “I love you,” to Manoj for the first time, you feel it in your gut. An emotional moment between mother and son as they realise that they’re both lying to each other about how much they’re struggling.

All of these moments lead to the big climax: the interview that Manoj has to clear to finally become an IPS officer. Again, there’s nothing too shocking in this scene but because we’ve been quietly leading up to this moment for over two hours, and even though we know what the outcome will be, you feel personally invested in Manoj’s journey. When he answers in punchlines, you don’t cringe but cheer on. The purity of this kind of storytelling is aided by Shantanu Moitra’s subtle yet impactful background score and pulsating cinematography rife with unwinding shots and crafty montages. It felt like I was watching some kind of educational film, and I kept waiting to get bored, but as it turns out, a basic story told well with the best intentions always goes a long way.

Vikrant Massey in 12th Fail
Vikrant Massey in 12th Fail

Vikrant Massey essays a quintessential “author-backed” role and this kind of characterisation can seem like award-bait. But Massey is known for his underrated performances (hello, A Death In The Gunj) and his effortless restraint in today’s day and age is laudable. The casting in 12th Fail is one of its plus points — from Sarita Joshi who plays Manoj’s feisty grandmother; Anshuman Pushkar, who plays the Mukherjee Nagar do-gooder senior coaching UPSC aspirants for free; to Priyanshu Chatterjee, who plays an honest police officer and ends up becoming the main source of inspiration for Manoj.

I found myself tearing up at several points in 12th Fail despite knowing exactly where the story was headed. This is the film’s biggest pro: The ability to take a story a lot of people may know and make it exciting enough to engage an audience member for over two hours. The simplicity and purity of 12th Fail was a breath of fresh air at a time when overproduced and over curated films are seeming like the norm.

Could 12th Fail have done more? Perhaps. An adapted story or a biopic has certain limitations in terms of how much creative liberty one can take, but there is definitely scope for more engaging and more humorous moments — which were rare but executed well whenever they came around. Kudos to Chopra and his writing team for this feat (Jaskunwar Kohli and Aayush Saxena). I wish there were fewer motivational monologues but I also appreciate the lack of blatant emotional manipulation in 12th Fail, especially since we can’t say the same about some of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s previous films (*cough 3 Idiots cough*).

And then, of course, there’s Vikrant Massey’s smile. The pivotal, emotional anchor of the entire film.


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