Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Super 30

Two words come to mind watching Chris Mitchell's film Super 30 - sadhana and samudra manthan. He traces the lives of the students who come from impoverished, rural backgrounds in Bihar but dream of making it to IIT by way of the Ramanujan School of Mathematics and then Super 30. There are many participants in the sadhana - the students from remote villages in Bihar who aspire to catapult past the limitations of their life's circumstances - birth in a backward caste family, poverty and lack of access to good education.

They believe they have what it takes to make it to the most elite institutions of learning in India and are willing to work as hard as it takes for them to get there. Then there is Anand, the math teacher who as a youngster missed the opportunity to study in Cambridge because his family was too poor to be able to afford it and his messianic efforts to bring such opportunities to the thirty most deserving students whose backgrounds are similar to his own.

To the selected thirty he offers free tuition, board and lodging as he prepares them for the all important IIT entrance exams.
Anand is not your run-of-the-mill IIT coach - instead he embodies the ancient Gurukul tradition which requires a teacher to give their very best and expect nothing in return. Through his own example, he is able to harness the talent and energy of his young, impressionable students to a single-minded focus on their goal.

The race to make it to the IITs is brutally difficult because there are far too many qualifying candidates for too few seats. As a result, the entrance tests are designed to be able to eliminate as many as possible. When a young person from the backwaters of Bihar does make it to an IIT and from there to the potential of unlimited opportunity, it is like they were reborn to a whole new life. It changes them and the communities they come from permanently - in short it is a life-changing event.

Anand has devised therefore a very difficult process to select the thirty who he is confident will be able to crack the exam. His process is akin to the Pauranic samudra mathan - through successive tests, he churns through the ocean of aspirants to select the few that will make it to the Super 30. And that is just the beginning for a long journey. While he is able to get them admission to the IITs, these students still have plenty of challenges left to overcome. They will need to compete with the privileged, English-medium educated students from IITs and "lesser" institutions for career and higher education opportunities.

The story of Super 30 is a testament to the power of determination to succeed. Both student and teacher have to survive extraordinary hardships to realize their dreams. That such an endeavor should take root and survive in Bihar, a state reputed to be one of the most law-less and violence prone in India, should gives Indians elsewhere much hope and inspiration. Anand's story is worth telling not because of its exceptional success but for the means he uses to achieve it. Chris Mitchell's is a sensitive, intimate and genuine portrait of this exceptional endeavor to use the "power of education to remake lives and communities"

The film will be showing in the HBO-SAIFF festival in New York on 23rdOctober, and then in Washington at the Indian Visions Film Festival, 23-26 November.


ggop said...

This is an awe inspiring effort. Many desis here in Calif are quick to segregate their kids and label people from lower income households and struggle with English as a second language. Education is so much about class. I'm glad true "merit" shines through in this system.

ggop said...

Honestly, why does Taare Zameen par get nominated for the Oscars whereas more deserving candidates like these are overlooked?

Heartcrossings said...

ggop - About your question on Oscar nominations - I guess meaningful cinema from India would force people out of their stereotypes about the kind of movies Indians can produce. That may the reason why silly mainstream fare gets mentioned and routinely rejected at the Oscars. It keeps the uppity desis in line ;)

Anonymous said...

still there is honesty, i am proud of the teacher of super 30 and his mother,good food is the basic need of every body,that the great lady is providing. good children are,coming only from good mother.god bless them all.