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Bollywood’s back to school blockbusters

| Updated: September 5, 2021 01:27

JAGRITI (1954)

This path-breaking film won a Certificate of Merit at the National Film Awards. It also bagged the Filmfare Award for Best Film, with Abhi Bhattacharya as the new school superintendent Shekhar, taking home the trophy for Best Supporting Actor. Shekhar, unlike the other teachers, doesn’t believe in punishment.

Through songs like “De di hamein azadi”, “Hum laaein hain toofan” and the evergreen “Aao bachchon tumhein dekhiye jhanki Hundustan ki” he patiently imparts humane values, teaches his students to love their country and its rich heritage. It takes time, but he perseveres with his unorthodox methods and eventually, even the rebellious teenager Ajay, awakens to the true meaning of friendship. 

PS: Jagriti is the Hindi remake of Satyen Bose’s 1949 Bengali film, Paribartan, and spawned a Pakistani copy, Bedardi.   


This was the desi The Sound Of Music with Julie Andrews’ governess Maria turning into Jeetendra’s tutor, Ravi, who is brought in to tame a bunch of recalcitrant children but ends up reforming an adult’s mindset as well. While corporal punishment has been banned today, back in the Seventies, standing on the bench in the classroom or for hours in the sun, and even the occasional beating, were seen as integral to the teaching process which is what this film preached against.

Ravi chooses love over fear and intimidation, refusing to use the stick to discipline the brat pack, a lesson learnt by future educators. 

PS: The Gulzar and R.D. Burman combo gave us “Sa re ke sa re ga ma ko le kar gaate chale”, the Indianized version of “Doe a deer”.

IQBAL (2005)

The Subhash Ghai produced coming-of-age sports drama, written and directed by Nagesh Kukunoor, revolves around a deaf-mute boy from the remote interiors who finally gets a place in the Indian cricket team, thanks to his coach, Mohit. Naseeruddin Shah was brilliant as the sloshed has-been cricketer coach bagging the National Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Shreyas Talpade’s grit and determination as Iqbal on screen was matched off it too. While filming the last shot, while leaping in the air to bowl, the debutant actor twisted his ankle and could hardly walk. But when he learnt that they would not be able to use the shot, he limped back to his mark and gave a perfect retake even though he had to keep his ankle bandaged for weeks after that.  

PS: The film also won a National Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues and is among the 10 best Hindi films ideal for training and motivational material.

BLACK (2005)

Inspired by American activist Hellen Keller’s journey of grit, this Sanjay Leela Bhansali drama was impressive for Rani Mukerji’s portrayal of the deaf and mute Michelle McNally. But it was Amitabh Bachchan as her elderly alcoholic teacher Debraj Sahai who stole the show. In a National Award-winning performance, he tames the uncontrollable child who eventually goes on to graduate, thanks to his persistent efforts. But by then, he is in the grips of Alzheimer’s. 

PS: Deaf-blind Zamir Dhale stayed in Shimla during the shoot to help Big B and Rani with sign language and help them understand his world.


Today, every time India celebrates a big sporting victory, be it in cricket, hockey or athletics, the one song that always plays on people’s minds and on the field is “Chak de… Chak de! India.”  Fourteen years after its release, Chak De! India, loosely inspired by the Indian women hockey team’s triumph at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, remains evergreen.

And so too, its inspirational coach, Kabir Khan, modelled on Mir Ranjan Negi, a former goalkeeper who coached the girls. Shah Rukh Khan who had played hockey himself when in college, could guide actresses like Vidya Malavade — team captain Vidya — who had never played any sport before, and also mentor real hockey players like Chitrashi Rawat — the hot-headed Komal Chautala — who had never faced the camera before. No wonder the team called him “Coach Sir” even off-camera.

PS: Did you know that before Shah Rukh the film had been offered to another Khan, Salman?

TAARE ZAMEEN PAR (2007), 3 IDIOTS (2009), DANGAL (2016)

TZP, produced and directed by Aamir Khan, who played an art teacher to an eight-year-old dyslexic boy Ishaan, played by Darsheel Safary, who falters in academics but excels in art. The film brought about a change in educational policies, with parents recognizing and accepting learning disorders in their children and students.

PS: The film got a standing ovation from the International Dyslexia Association in Seattle after a screening on October 29, 2008.

3 Idiots was a satire on the Indian education system, adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s bestselling novel, Five Point Someone. Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, it won three National Awards, including Best Popular Film.

The first Hindi film to net Rs 200 crore, it changed people’s attitude to education which till then had only been about bookish knowledge, degrees and unimaginable pressure. Aamir Khan was 44 when he played college student Rancho.

PS: Steven Spielberg lists it amongst his five best films.

Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal was inspired by wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat who could not win a medal for his country but trained his four daughters to live out his dream – Geeta Phogat becoming the first Indian female wrestler to go to the Olympics. Aamir Khan pulled out all stops to ‘live’ the role, putting on 200-plus pounds, training with Commonwealth Games medalist, Kripa Shankar Patel Bishnoi, and even learning the Haryanvi dialect.

Today, “Dangal Dangal” has become the clarion call for women empowerment in a state where female feticide was once rampant, but which now gives India its best sportspersons, many of them women.

PS: The film was tax-free in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand to promote the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign.


As Raj Batra, the owner of a nouveau riche boutique, desperate to get his young daughter Pia admitted to his wife’s dream school, Irrfan Khan embodied the dreams of many middle-class parents for whom a good education is akin to winning a gold medal. And through this character, he went on to impress that just enrolling your child in a private school against all odds won’t make him or her Einstein.

Coming from a small town, Irrfan understood that a government school can also produce gems. And that’s the biggest takeaway from this little big film.

PS: The film was released in China as Qi Pao Xian (The Starting Line) and did extremely well there.


Taking the theme of education forward, Irrfan, in his last film, plays Champak Bansal, owner of a mithai shop and a single parent who will go to any lengths to help his daughter Tarika live out her dream.

The film not only debates the need to acquire a degree from a foreign university to get ahead in life. But it is also a lesson in parent-child dynamics. The message that comes through is that relationships are bigger than any angrezi medium education.

PS: Irrfan personally didn’t believe that it is imperative to send your child abroad for higher studies – “It depends on where your child’s passion lies”.    

SUPER 30 (2019)

When his first look from Super 30 was unveiled on September 5, 2018, Teacher’s Day, one couldn’t believe that this was Hrithik Roshan. Where were the 8-packs? Does the burnished Greek God look? The suave and style?

Playing Patna-based mathematician Anand Kumar who made headlines training 30 economically backward but deserving students every year for the IIT-JEE entrance exams, supposedly with a 100 per cent success rate, was a gamble that could have finished him off.

But Hrithik underplayed his looks, darkened his skin, learnt Bihari and successfully made the transition from a caped superhero to a real-life superhero whose line “Aaj raja ka beta raja nahin manega, raja wohi banega jo haqdaar hoga” will resonate with many students down the years.

PS: Akshay Kumar had also been in the race for the same role. 


Chhichhore was a life writer-director Nitesh Tiwari had lived during his four years of engineering at IIT-Bombay. He went back to shoot a coming-of-age campus film with Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor and many others. An ode to romance, friendship and the spirit of competition, most importantly, it offered a message to a young boy that one shouldn’t give up because losers can become choosers one day.

PS: Nitesh Tiwari while in college directed a musical skit, A Touch of Evil¸ and went on to lift the PAF shield.

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