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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Best of Luck, Laalu: Satire on education ‘merit’ game has merit, take-aways

Best of Luck, Laalu: Satire on education ‘merit’ game has merit, take-aways

His name is Laalu Modi, but the moniker is not an amalgam of two veteran politicians from the Indian arena, Laalu Prasad Yadav and Narendra Modi. At least not obviously so. The film’s protagonist is Laalu, son of late Devesh and Bank Cashier Daksha, and grandson of Haresh Modi. All the Best, Lalu begins in flashback, as Lalu retraces incidents and developments in the last two years in his life, even as a psychiatrist, Dr. Rustom Cooper, tries to talk him out of his attempt at committing suicide, triggered by the belief he has flunked his Mathematics exam, an eventuality will shock his mother beyond belief.

Best of Luck, Laalu, is in Gujarati language and set in Ahmedabad. Life in the growing city is neatly captured through nuances like the main characters shopping for vegetables and driving scooters. A short back-story about Daksha’s early widowhood and her life as a bread-winner will see some tears flowing down audiences’ cheeks, as will the son’s act of worshipping his mother before turning to the statue of his god.

While there are such inspired moments, there are several stock characters too, like the do-gooder grandpa who has a sometimes convoluted, sometimes extended, logic of his own and never hesitates to sneak in his one-liners; the sweet girl next-door who is a dud at studies and is courted by both Vicky and Lalu; the tuition teacher who offers his service as an hour-rated commercial enterprise; the indifferent principal who sees reason only after he is threatened with serious consequences.

Multi-lingual Vipul Mehta has been working as writer-director in Hindi television for some twenty years now, including as writer on the epic and iconic Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. After co-writing and directing Carry on Kesar (also in Gujarati) and writing the Hindi language Rekha-Sharman Joshi starrer Super Nani, he has made this film on a script by Amatya Goradia, another multi-lingual, another prodigy. Goradia names his lead actor after himself, giving him the pet-name of Laalu, played Smit Ganatra, his drama-troupe buddy. Amatya Goradia, who runs the theatre group AmyGo is all of 24 and a prodigy in the theatre circuit, as writer and director. Ambiences of various locales are well-captured. Ploys like the multitude of alarm clocks and Dada’s protest fasting beget laughs, more as farcical elements than situational comedy.

Supriya Pathak-Kapur as Daksha is the backbone of the film and gets an opportunity to converse in native Gujarati. Her maternal love, daughter-in-law concerns, home truths and true grit shine through in almost every frame. Muni Dilip Jha, with a surname like that, is an enigma. He was in Kyunki..., but this is the first time I am seeing him in a Gujarati film. If Gujarati is not his mother tongue (big IF) and his voice has not been dubbed (producers’ confirmation), then he is some linguist! Both Supriya and Muni have some awkward moments, when they either look away at odd angles (Supriya), look intensely blank or shake their heads. What Muni does have in abundance is confidence.

The four teenagers, Laalu, Forum (Simran Natekar), Vicky (Rishabh Joshi) and Sushil (Devarshi Trivedi) are all going through adolescence in different ways. Laalu is under severe pressure and deep angst to get into a merit list in order to secure admission for further studies and achieve his aim of becoming an Aeronautical Engineer while nursing a strong crush on Forum. On her part, she is happy go lucky and content with what fate has in store. (She's the little girl who is seen in the anti-smoking public service films that are mandatorily screened before most films shown in Mumbai cinemas; reference  is for notalgia only, the said film being very badly made).

Vicky is proud, pushy and possessive (of Forum), but the secret of his consistent highest-scoring run is dark and immoral. Sushil is Laalu’s pal, attributes his pathetic performance at exams to short-term memory loss, à la Ghajini’s Aamir Khan, and thinks nothing of cheating at exams to get through. He speaks with a pronounced lisp, with his tongue jutting out, as a comic relief trope. All four go through their paces without getting into any high merit list. Abhay Harpale is cast as the mercenary tutor. Although there are moments when he has to go over the top, the stencilesque prototype is well-established. Kurush Deboo, a real-life Parsee, as a Parsee psychiatrist, fits the bill. His scene with Jha, where he comments about their ages being same but hair-counts differing, was unconvincing, script-wise.

Songs have inspiring poetry, particularly the ‘Nayan ney band raakhee ney’ (lyrics Niren Bhatt, music Sachin-Jigar, voice Sachin Sanghvi) number. Dialogue is generally above average, except when it stoops to contrived rhyming, like "Daksha-Kaksha-Raksha".

While questioning and attacking the three-hour exams, merit system, exams tuition class syndrome and rote learning in Indian education, and reminding us that working hard is the real thing, not working smart, All the Best, Laalu manages to entertain too. Watch it for its merits, not its tropes.

Rating: **1/2




About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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