Pick up a newspaper or surf news channels and I’m sure, atrocities being committed on students by teachers/principals wouldn’t escape your attention. Also do a Google and so many results on this topic would open up in a fraction of seconds. Educational institutions – not all, but a few definitely – are in a crazy rush to create a brand for themselves and even parents [not all, again] are keen that their kids become scholars and whiz kids overnight. Resultantly, the child is not just burdened with a bulky school bag on his back, but also carries the burden of ambitions, aspirations and unfulfilled dreams on his tiny, frail shoulders. PAATHSHAALA merely touches the tip of the iceberg. It attempts to answer questions related to the sanctity of today’s education system. It sheds light on the shortcomings in today’s schools and how morals and ethics associated with the teaching profession seem to have taken a complete backseat. Let’s not compare it with TAARE ZAMEEN PAR or 3 IDIOTS, although a few sequences, in these two trend-setting films, threw light on the pressures on students. PAATHSHAALA, penned by Ahmed Khan and directed by Milind Ukey, is well-intentioned. It has a lot to say, but the predicament is, what translates on celluloid is not razor-sharp. Of course, there are few defining moments in the movie, which do make you ponder on the plight of the educational system. But there are also portions – when the media steps in to boost the brand of the school – that are mumbo-jumbo. On the brighter side, the acting is distinguished. Nana underplays beautifully, Ayesha adds to the sunshine moments, but it’s Shahid who pitches in a commendable and convincing act. Final word? PAATHSHAALA, made with noble intentions, could’ve been a splendid wake up call, but it runs out of steam midway! The story begins with a new English teacher, Rahul Prakash Udyavar [Shahid Kapoor], joining Saraswati Vidya Mandir School. Though he strikes an instant rapport with students and teachers alike, he realizes that there is something amiss in the school. Slowly, his doubts prove true as School Manager Sharma [Saurabh Shukla] makes many monetary obligations compulsory on the parents in the name of extra-curricular activities. He goes to the extent of punishing the students inhumanly when the new, unjustified demands of the school are not fulfilled by the parents. When Rahul unifies the teachers [Ayesha Takia, Sushant Singh] against the atrocities of school management, Principal Aditya Sahay [Nana Patekar] defends the management decision. This comes as a shocker to the teachers as Sahay is known for his dedication as an educationist for last 32 years, which has built the school’s high reputation. The situation turns grave as the school management becomes over-ambitious with its growth and involves media planners in the extra-curricular activities. This demands the involvement of students in TV reality shows and many other media activities used for building up the school image in public, which starts reflecting on the students’ stress levels. The pressure on young minds increases incredibly, leading to unexpected consequences. One of my childhood memories is of a few students being called to the principal’s office and being reprimanded for not paying their school fees on time. In another instance, I vividly recall a student being made to stand in scorching heat, under the blazing sun, since he was up to some mischief all the while. The barbaric attitude was a way of teaching the student a lesson. PAATHSHAALA brings back those dark memories because the film encapsulates these two incidents on celluloid. The problem with the film is, it gets very real at times, but gets farcical as well. The participation of kids in media activities doesn’t have a hammer-strong impact. The chilly portion and the director capturing it on camera, or the press photographer munching samosa as the kids get ready with a pyramid, looks unreal, despite being identifiable incidents. Even the climax is confusing. What is Nana saying in the concluding reels lacks precision. Director Milind Ukey has filmed some scenes expertly, but, as mentioned above, the film lacks the power to make you do a serious introspection. Hanif Shaikh’s music is strictly okay. Nana is very much in sync with his character. Shahid displays the vulnerability and helplessness remarkably. Ayesha is a complete natural, as always. Amongst the plethora of teachers and students, Sushant Singh does well, Sushmita Mukherjee is serviceable and Saurabh Shukla is so effective, you start hating him for his repulsive attitude.
On the whole, PAATHSHAALA is a well-intentioned film, but lacks clarity thanks to an uninspiring screenplay.