'What Super 30 really wants to say is Hrithik Roshan can be an action hero without showing off his sculpted torso,' says Sukanya Verma.
'Directed by Vikas Bahl' announces the opening credits, only to have a big cloud of smoke blot out his name.
Quite evocative of the sexual misconduct allegations leading to the once eminent film-maker's fall from grace.
Super 30, his fourth film (Chillar Party, Queen, Shaandaar) is about an underdog fighting all odds to rise above his circumstances and emerge victorious.
Mercifully, it is not about Bahl, but Anand Kumar, the visionary mathematics teacher from Bihar and Super 30 founder under whose altruistic tutelage many a deserving but disadvantageous students have prospered.
Of course, it is a fictional take and liberties are taken to render Kumar's triumph more cinematic than realistic by throwing dramatic bouts of rain and storm, animation-aided classroom sessions, manipulative background score and cheesy lessons in English Vinglish.
Cinema at its most dishonest pretends to appear great by telling stories of significance.
Our biopics are almost never about reporting a reality. Either an exaggerated version of 'only the good bits' or an exercise in jazzing up an actor's body of work, this template-like adherence to the 'I-get-knocked down-but-I-get up-again' framework is utterly predictable.
What is not is a slyly implanted scene, where a lady shows up to falsely accuse the protagonist of molestation, mocking the aforementioned events and telling of Bahl's guile.
But even though the prism of objectivity, Super 30 can never shrug off its cosmetic depiction of a man's success against a system corrupted by politics of class, caste and economics.
Part of that problem is at the centre of its storytelling -- a woefully miscast Hrithik Roshan.
He doesn't look the part.
He doesn't sound the part.
Though an intrinsically solid actor, it is awkward to watch Hrithik's natural intensity and intelligence fight hard and fail miserably to make the posturing idealism, excessive tan or heavy-handed accent work.
Roshan sports a new shade of brown in every scene and his attempt to speak Bihari sounds like an Amitabh Bachchan fan mimicking Lal Badshah.
No amount of scribbling equations on the blackboard like A Beautiful Mind's John Nash, projecting naiveté like Koi... Mil Gaya's Rohit or arranging samosas for famished students applying mathematical 'mandawali' on a susceptible hotelier helps in taking him seriously.
Also for a movie whose focus is shared by the titular kids -- it is even narrated by an ex-student (a persuasive Vijay Varma) -- Super 30's insistence on restricting them to the sidelines is as problematic as the hierarchy it means to challenge.
Wouldn't it be nice to know these children as closely as the teacher who inspired them? Super 30 accomplishes neither.
When the batch does get its moment to shine towards the climax in an intentionally comical fulfillment of 'padhaai ki ladaai' motto, it plays out in such an absurd, contrived manner, perhaps it's a good thing they were kept on ignore.
Super 30's celebration of Anand Kumar's achievements is just as hollow.
One gets a better sense of disappointment in a heartbroken father's (a kindly Virendra Saxena) failure to send his deserving son to Cambridge, owing to shortage of funds, than when an unkempt Anand is forced-to-sell papads. Everyone else in his family looks like they at least took a bath.
Early bits of Super 30 breezes through until a politically affiliated businessman (Aditya Shrivastava) makes Anand an offer he cannot refuse.
All of a sudden, the tone shifts to a gangster flick what with flashy gold chains, dance bars and coaching mafia.
In one of its least convincing scenes, Anand is bitten by the conscience bug and decides to set up the Super 30 programme, an all-expenses paid coaching centre to prepare poor students for IIT-JEE.
Considering he tests their calibre by putting them through a test and handpicking 30 of those suggests he prioritises aptitude over poverty.
But the politics of his beliefs as well as this film's are clumsily treaded in Super 30's dizzying symbolism like tossing a rudraksh around every casteist character's neck, Anand's Cambridge admission burned to flames, a student river rafting stormy waters to reach Anand's classes, reference to the Eklavya-Dronacharya chapter of Mahabharata and the repeated reminder that Ab raja ka beta raja nahi banega.
What Super 30 really wants to say is Hrithik Roshan can be an action hero without showing off his sculpted torso.
He will sport the same gruffness, articulate the same aggression, inspire the same fan club, dismiss extortion calls in the same 'take your best shot' vein and survive a bullet like the same Hindi film hero.
Pankaj Tripathi as the evil, rambling, politician, Mrunal Thakur's four scenes love interest and Amit Sadh as the oddly dressing journalist are completely wasted in the ensuing scenario.
Simplistic and lopsided, Super 30 is so satisfied by its master-to-mahatma narrative, it ends up seeing superb in so-so.