All India Rank Movie Review: The highly talented Varun Grover is making his feature-length directorial debut with All India Rank, which could easily serve as a companion piece to 2023's sleeper hit, Vidhu Vinod Chopra's 12th Fail. Both films are set in Kota, the capital of India's coaching centres and the town equivalent of a pressure cooker building up full steam, and feature protagonists struggling against the odds to write some of India's toughest entrance exams. If 12th Fail's Manoj Kumar Sharma was a struggling UPSC aspirant, then All India Rank's Vivek (Bodhisattva Sharma) is coerced to clear the IIT entrance exams. All India Rank: Varun Grover Calls His Debut Directorial a 'Semi-Autobiography'.

The similarities don't end here. At one point in both movies, one of the protagonist's friends succumbs to jealousy, though with far disastrous consequences in this film. Additionally, both protagonists find their fathers unemployed at some point. Love also plays a role, if Manoj Kumar Sharma crushed on the lovely Shraddha in 12th Fail, Vivek falls for his pretty and studious classmate Sarika (Samta Sudiksha), who reciprocates his feelings.

Kota Factory Meets Gullak

Major similarities end there, as All India Rank takes a different route than the inspirational tone of the real-life inspired 12th Fail, at least not in a conventional manner. Through Vivek, All India Rank shows the emotional and mental duress a teenager, who is yet to figure out how to deal with their hormonal urges, has to put themselves through in order to achieve the 'ultimate' dream of their parents, who are trapped in their own existential crises, without making a martyr out of any of them.

Watch the Trailer of All India Rank:

Feel-wise, the movie looks more like an amalgamation of two TVF series, Kota Factory and Gullak, with a little sprinkling of Flames. That's also an issue with All Indian Rank. You wonder which novel route Grover, who has also written the screenplay, wants to take you through with the protagonist's struggles that you have not seen in the past. The answer isn't a favourable one, when you can see its struggle to step outside the looming shadows of shows like Kota Factory and Aspirants, and even of 12th Fail, for that matter.

Parental Woes

What works here, to some extent, is that All India Rank doesn't glamourise the soul-sucking coaching system by bringing up success stories or having Jeetu Bhaiyya's motivational gems. I am no IIT-Ian, but even as I reach 40, I still get nightmares about my board exams. So, I can't even imagine the psychological stress a teenager sent to Kota has to go through to live up to their parents' aspirations. It helps that All India Rank doesn't only show the story of Vivek but also that of his parents, be it his ailing mother coping with his absence (while having her own challenges) or the father, whose workplace frustrations are turned into unjustified expectations for his son. Varun Grover, Renowned Writer and Lyricist, Describes Shah Rukh Khan as 'Real Personality,' Compares Salman Khan to an AI Character (Watch Video).

A Still From All India Rank

These are relatable moments, though the rushed manner in which these subplots are dealt with gives a surface-level depth to these portions, like when the father finds out that being an IIT-ian doesn't make you a better person. But didn't he want his son to be an IIT-ian because he desired to see the latter bring their family out of financial crisis? Why does he think that an IIT tag would make for a better human being too? That's never explained unless it's his naivete that makes him think so.

Nostalgia Bait!

All India Rank has some charming quirks that work, like, during a song sequence, pencils, and pens replace the raindrops, or the song played during the title track with its whimsical animation played over a disco-retro song. The film is set in 1997, when India celebrated its 50th year of independence. The period setting not only adds a nostalgic flavour to the proceedings - Swad, Citra, and Ajay Jadeja's famous photo-op with Madhuri Dixit all make their appearances - but it also offers a paradoxical allegory of how, despite the 50 years of independence, the parents and the kids in the country are both slaves to the system.

A Still From All India Rank

Some of the voiceover's observations make for nice food for thought, like Vivek pointing out the irony of having all first-rankers competing with each other. But not everything works.

Aisa Kya Jaldi Hai

The film addresses the emotional turmoil of a Kota student but doesn't call out the systemic flaws that allow this to happen. There is a suicide in the story, but that feels coaxed into the plot and doesn't raise the emotional stakes the sequence deserves. The character in question here isn't a well-developed one, and the circumstances behind the drastic step felt muddied (Was it pressure? Was it out of feeling betrayed? Was it out of loneliness). The hurried nature of the film reduces the significant impact of this scene on both the protagonist and the movie. Similarly, the love story, while providing a cheery touch, doesn't significantly contribute to the already predictable plot; it does not bring out any major shuffles to the protagonist's journey. The final scene may add a personal touch to the movie's semi-biographical nature, but feels abrupt otherwise.

A Still From All India Rank

The cast, including Bodhisattva Sharma, Shashi Bhushan, Geeta Agrawal Sharma, and Samta Sudiksha, delivers commendable performances. Sheeba Chadha, playing the head of the coaching centre, adds life to her teaching portions, but her character remains peripheral to the main events.

Final Thoughts on All India Rank

All India Rank, perhaps, would have made for a more impactful viewing had we not already delved into the familiar waters of its plot before. Or at least if the semi-biographical drama had aimed for a bolder resolution. In its present avatar, Varun Grover's debut directorial has moments of charm and quirks, with its cast delivering the goods, but is seeped into predictability and doesn't have the edge to stand out from its peers.


(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Feb 22, 2024 11:21 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website