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Review: 12th Fail – A Social Commentary Beyond Bollywood Clichés

12th Fail is a conventional movie which has managed to stay with all even after the credits roll.

12th Fail – Embodying the Don’t Quit, Restart Story


A documentary film? Nah!

“A penniless village boy, 12th standard failed, struggling to make ends meet in the big bad city, striving for the impossible – to crack the UPSC exams.” Doesn’t it sound like the subject of a documentary film? It’s certainly not fodder for mainstream Bollywood fare, where gory bloodbaths, over-the-top jingoistic tales, and raunchy comedies are ruling the scene.

But ace filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra has always been known to be a maverick. He crafts an unforgettable, heart-wrenching saga called 12th Fail with a raw, earnest cast, and an honest, no-nonsense filmmaking style. Result – a film that will go down in history as a milestone piece of work. 12th Fail comes as a breath of oxygen at a time when we are too frightened to hope, too cynical to dream.

It serves as a timely reminder to us jaded souls – that pure hard work, consistent effort, and honesty of intent can help in achieving one’s lifelong ambition.

A true story

A raw, honest story of hard work, ambition and emotion – The story is based on a best-seller written on the life of Manoj Kumar Sharma, a real-life David who challenged the English-speaking, moneyed Goliaths, and cocked a snook at the infamous coaching mafia. This IPS officer is the role model our kids should emulate, as he embodies pure grit and perseverance.

Facing blatant discrimination, injustice, absolute lack of resources, and a hostile education system, the protagonist works towards his goal – inch by inch, with sweat and tears. In a system that cheats, hoodwinks, works merrily around rules, and favours the public-school-educated, English-spouting, well-heeled cool dude, this dark horse with zero contacts, money or even academic excellence makes it.

Not a sentimental, tear-jerker.

Now, this story could easily have become a soppy, sentimental drama or a tear-jerker full of manipulative scenes that glorified its protagonist. The film studiously avoids such tropes. There are places when you see the hero behaving like a fool, eliciting sad sympathy, where you can see his downfall coming. And then he rises, like a phoenix, again and again, to claim his spot under the sun.

Takes on the role of a tutorial!

No frills, no fancy clothes, no songs, no violence, sex, cuss words, or item numbers, but touches the hearts of millions. It becomes a tutorial on honest hard work, an inspirational guide to all young people on the verge of their careers.

Vikrant Massey – The chameleon-like performer

Living the role of Manoj Kumar Sharma is the chameleon-like performer – Vikrant Massey. What can be said about this young actor, who seems to have embodied Sharma’s pain, whose tears you want to wipe, whom you want to just give a “jhappi” to say, “Carry on boy”? It’s Massey’s career-best performance, one that should get him the awards and accolades, and deservedly so.

It helps that he is ably supported by a stellar cast of Medha Shankar, Anshuman Pushkar, Anantvijay Joshi, Priyanshu Chatterjee, and Geeta Sharma and Harish Khanna who play his parents. Veteran actress Sarita Joshi as the doughty grandmother is so endearing. Under Chopra’s assured direction, all the cast members perform organically, without stealing each other’s spotlight, giving this beautiful story its apt treatment.


As a Bengali, the hat-tip to Satyajit Ray’s classics – Pather Panchali and Aparajito (the protagonist coming back to the village, reunion with parents, his constant struggle against penury and desperation, and most of all, the shining innocence in the eyes) is the icing on the cake!

After a long time, I saw a movie with its heart in the right place, absolutely without any frills. Personally, this film gave me a much-needed boost of optimism, when I was getting frustrated about my publishing efforts.

Recommended to everyone who has a beating heart inside them, who desperately wants to hear the words – carry on. Absolute must-watch for all young students, career aspirants, and their parents. Rating – 9/10

12th Fail: Worth the Hype?


12th Fail is a story of courage and resilience. The protagonist Manoj’s successful journey, from a 12th Fail to an IPS topper, forms the crux of the movie.

A sweet and simple story, it is about a quintessential teenager with humble ambitions of finding employment as a peon in a government office. His principle of RESTART and never giving up, despite all linguistic, casteist, and economic hurdles, paved the way for him to top his exams.    

The BUT!

Not a novel. The execution makes it different

The overall plot is perhaps not very novel. There have been movies in the past about students, IAS aspirants, academic pressure, defeat, and success in the end. What makes 12th Fail different, is the treatment. There is no melodrama. There are emotions. Be it joy, sorrow, love, anger, or frustration…there are many moments where the movie could have gone overboard with tears, songs, and speeches. But it doesn’t.

There is a raw genuineness about the entire premise, making 12th Fail a thoroughly realistic fare. There is no needless preaching, the movie pretty well explains the effort and hard work that goes into cracking UPSC. Manoj’s final interview and the finale are like icing on the cake, these frames particularly bring out a thousand sentiments that have to be watched and experienced.

Repetitive and predictable!

But 12th Fail had its fair share of flaws. Though the runtime isn’t too long, (Just 2 hours and 25 minutes) it felt lengthy. It is the repetition. And the predictability. There are far too many scenes of Manoj’s exams, his prelims, passing prelims, then his appearing for finals, his mistakes, and the results being displayed. After a while, you know what exactly to expect. As he approaches his last attempt, you know he will clear this time for sure and his callous friend will fail. There’s nothing unknown to look forward to and many times I found myself distracted.

I would have liked it a bit faster and crispier, so it could engage me throughout.


I would recommend 12th Fail to all, it’s a one-time watch. Clean entertainment, devoid of cuss or lust. Do not expect too much, and you won’t be very disappointed. It’s a good movie indeed, but you might have seen better ones. Rating -3.5/5.


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