The real education begins long before school starts.
Available online. Approximately 134 minutes.
Laltu and Mitali are parents of Rishi…nicknamed Gogol. Because local government schools in India are worse than that news story about Texas textbooks, Rishi’s parents are trying hard to get him into a private school. Unfortunately, for them, the private schools have been skirting around the part of India’s Right to Education Act that prevents schools from interviewing children or parents. So, the movie opens with one of the schools having a playful little sessions with some adorable little kids…and Gogol gets rejected due to not knowing the name of a certain type of bird. Personally, that seems unfair to me, because few kids twice his age would know what it was called. But, he got rejected, and Mitali is upset.
The next school has a lottery and…well, Gogol does not get that either. It is probably a sham lottery, just like the “inter-active sessions” at the other schools may be shams, as certain families can bribe their way in. So, while Mitali hires a young English tutor for Gogol (who turns out to be less than adequate a teacher), Laltu visits a third school and tries to make a donation, but his bluntness and somewhat creepy behavior gets him thrown out. Not exactly Lori Loughlin here, that Laltu. Fortunately for him, another creepy guy approaches him outside of the school and points him to a tout named Singhania. Singhania doesn’t really tell Laltu much that he does not know overall, but he does provide some details as to how difficult things will be for him. This school that Gogol is applying to now will interview the parents, and their social standing will be important. Laltu’s job, club membership, vehicle situation, cellphone, and fashion style are seen as wanting. The best “donation” that Laltu could provide would be free vaccines from his medicine shop, but there is no way that he could afford to do that.
Well…nevermind all of that for now. Mitali’s brother is coming back from Germany and bringing his German wife, Jennifer. A very German name. So, the family packs up and goes to Mitali’s parents, who live in a small village. Mitali and Jennifer bond almost immediately. Jennifer, however, who has become fascinated with the Bengali language and culture, worries that Mitali’s insistence that Gogol will lose his heritage as a result of his mother’s insistence that he needs to be immersed in English in order to make it in the business world. As sister-in-laws bond and Gogol bonds with his grandparents, the school calls. Parental interviews are soon. So, Mitali, Laltu, and Gogol go back home.
While collecting a ridiculous number of documents about their identities, Laltu confesses to Mitali that he does not have his certificate of graduation from business school because he never graduated, and had been kind of stringing her along for years. As she steams over this, he gets it into his head that it would be a better idea for Singhania to go to the interview and pose as her husband. I am not sure exactly why this would be a good idea, but both Mitali and Singhania eventually agree to the scheme…which ultimately has to be scrapped when they find out that the school is checking family photographs. So, Laltu races over to the school…and due to his terrible grasp of English, completely botches the interview. So, what now?
I do not have kids myself, so I have no firsthand experience of just how difficult it is or seems to get one’s child into even an adequate school. This movie makes it seem near impossible, given the ridiculous requirements on the one hand and the shameless corruption on the other. Not for college either; this is for shoolchildren school. Laltu comes across as hapless and over his head while Mitali is a ball of stress and rage for the most part. Their behavior and actions lead to a lot of scenes of drama, but also quite a bit of comedy. Neither of them have the means or the will to actually combat the unfair system; that’s not going to get Gogol anywhere. The system is taken as a given, even as it pushes them away. They are just desperately trying to carve out a place for their son so that he can escape from a future of failure. Is this all worth it, though? What are they losing in putting themselves and their son through such mental suffering? What will they lose even if they succeed?
It is not quite stated outright, but it is heavily implied that these private schools are English language and are meant to prepare the children for an English-speaking world. A theme that runs through the movie is the struggle to reconcile one’s traditional culture and the larger modern world. The first obvious sign of this is through Jennifer, who is less important as a character than she is as the Westerner who provides outsider validation for Bengali culture. There is a somewhat deeper exploration of this throughout the second half of the movie during a month-long crash course to help parents with the “not interview” process. I am not sure how that fits in with the school application timeframe or how much the viewer is supposed to take the subplot seriously, but whatever.
The teacher tries to get the various parents to modify their behavior in regards to their children, the interviewers, and each other. This includes upending the Indian tradition of the men eating first while the women serve them food, though this is a practice that Jennifer had actively embraced earlier on. On the other hand, she also says that what their children learn in the English-language private school are primarily meant for the workplace, and that hanging onto family and one’s cultural roots is still important for the soul of a person and a people. The risk of the modern outside world and the traditional inside world comes to a somewhat melodramatic head towards the end of the movie, but it still kind of works. I am not quite sure if I agree with the “lesson” of the movie, but it is something to think about at the very least.
I don’t know if parents of young children would be able to understand (or criticize) this movie more than I did, but you don’t really have to be parents to enjoy it. It is sad, funny, and a somewhat subtle call for a change while still being a crowd-pleaser. Check it out if you can.
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