Hrithik Roshan-starrer Super 30 is based on the life of Anand Kumar, who started a revolutionary education programme for underprivileged students, called Super 30, in Patna in 2002. Guardian 20 spoke to Kumar about the film, his involvement in the filmmaking process and his thoughts on the education system in India.
Q. What was your reaction when you got to know that a film was being made on you?
A. I felt ecstatic. Every man wishes to have his words and ideology reach as many people as possible, and to have an influence on as many people as possible. I want to reach out to maximum students, to be able to motivate and encourage them to study and word harder. I especially want to reach out to those students who don’t have enough resources so that I can motivate them to study harder. Thinking about and understanding the impact that the film would have made me very happy.
Q. Have you watched the film? If yes, how close do you feel Hrithik has come to capturing your character?
A. I haven’t watched the film yet but I have read the script multiple times and helped in building and improving the same. I have seen a few glimpses during the making and I can assure you that they have made a good film. Hrithik’s reel-life character is pretty similar to mine. He has done an excellent job in portraying me. When I gave my approval for the film, he told me that he would work hard on it for a year, will put all his strength and energy into this character. And he really did give one full year to it. He got the right body built, along with getting a good grip on my accent and lingo. He went through extensive training to catch my dialect, watched 150 hours of my video content and sat down with me for several meetings. Once he got so involved that a meeting that was originally scheduled for two hours went on for seven hours… So that is the level of dedication he has.
Q. Is the script of the film an exact replica of your life?
A. It based on my true life story. But like any other Bollywood biopic, they have dramatised a few things here and there to make it more “filmy” and entertaining.
Q. How involved were you in the making of the film?
A. I was very involved in the process of scriptwriting. Apart from that, I accompanied the crew whenever they wanted to visit my or the students’ village, especially Vikas Bahl [director]. But after the scripting, my role was more or less over because it was a very talented team, with good actors and filmmakers. I didn’t want to intervene in their artistic liberty. Nor could I take that much time out. Vikas Bahl is such a good filmmaker and I had a lot of faith in what he was doing. But halfway through the shooting, they insisted that I come and see how the film was turning out. When Hrithik came to meet me, I actually felt that they’d done a good job in getting my physical appearance right. Even after the shoot, he was talking to me in Bihari. I told him that he doesn’t need to do that and that he should speak how he naturally does. But he said that he’s gotten into the role so much that now dropping off the dialect requires more effort.
Q. What inspired Super 30, your education programme for underprivileged students?
A. I had no money. I got admission into Cambridge University but I couldn’t afford the flight tickets. My father was a low-paid postal employee, so he couldn’t bear that. In fact, he passed away overwhelmed by this stress. All these experiences in life became my inspiration and motivation. I knew that I wanted to do something for underprivileged children. There are millions of kids in India who are very talented in some field or the other, but due to the shortage of resources, they somehow lose out on a lot of opportunities.
Q. What advice you would like to offer to students preparing for IIT-JEE?
A. Subjects like mathematics and science should always be studied with a “how and why” logic. When you try to mug up on a subject before an exam, you’re not doing any good either to yourself or to the subject. That’s why to understand a concept best, you need to understand the why and how of it. Figure out how you can connect a concept with practical life, how to solve one question through various methods, actually fall in love with it. Doing these things will make the subject more interesting to you and consequently, the learning exercise will become more fruitful.
Q. What do you have to say about the cut-throat competition to get into IITs? Do you feel it’s still healthy?
A. What has happened now is that parents’ expectations of their children have shot up too much. A child might have the flair to be a journalist and or to become a good teacher, but all their parents want them to be is an engineer or doctor. This pressure to take up only certain professions and excel in them makes students very stressed, to the extent that some even commit suicide. So, a lot of it is on the parents of this generation who need to make sure that no career goal or ambition comes before their child’s mental health.
Q. What are your views on the current state of education in India?
A. Our country has different tiers of education structure. On the top, there are five-star hotel-like schools for the rich. And at the bottom are institutions that don’t even have the bare minimum infrastructure. Let alone computers, they don’t even have electricity, benches, tables and basic amenities. What the government needs to do is make the government-aided system extremely strong and efficient. They need to recruit good teachers so that even children from the lower strata get the right training and opportunities.
In fact, this film is not just Anand Kumar’s story. It is the story of every teacher who is working hard and struggling to make a living through the dingy schools of rural India. It is the story of every student who is passionate about studying a discipline but doesn’t have the means to do so. With this film, underprivileged children will get motivated to believe that they can achieve anything they want if they work hard, and the privileged children will understand the value of their resources and use them more judiciously. Today, every parent, irrespective of their social class, wants the best teacher for their children. But ironically, hardly anyone wants their children to take up teaching as a career. They treat it as a backup career that one resorts to if they don’t make it anywhere else.
Q. Do you have plans to further expand your Super 30 programme?
A. We are now planning to open a school where we will admit not just 30 students but many more, right from class sixth and, not just for IIT but a lot of other things, like quizzes and Olympiads. A school where any student, irrespective of his or her social and economic class and area of interest, can take admission.