Mumbai, 23 May 2019 15:00 IST
The film deals with the topic of poorly run government schools in small villages in the Hindi heartland of India.
An education inspector pays a visit to a government school in Khurhand village in the interiors of Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state. He realizes to his horror that a student and a teacher are fakes. There is no education going on. Hardly a handful of students attend the school, though a lot many more turn up for the lunch served under the government's mid-day meal scheme for school students.
More shocks are in store. The inspector realizes that even the school principal is a fake. That is when the inspector decides to give a jolt, not to the fakes but to the audience, by declaring that he, too, is an impostor.
Right into such a hopeless situation walks Ashish Kumar (Shiva Suryavanshi), the new teacher or 'Maassab', a mix of ‘master’ and ‘saheb’. Ashish Kumar, fresh from the difficult task of reforming juvenile delinquents, has been transferred to the school.
Ashish is an idealistic whose aim is to turn this government school around. He has a mammoth task ahead of him because of the hopeless situation that exists there. He gets able support from the village head and a young woman Usha Devi (Sheetal Singh).
Innumerable films have been made about honest men pitted against the corrupt system. But in these films the protagonist is usually an angry police officer who has to deal with anti-social elements. Maassab is different. Here the central character is a teacher in a government school. There are no angry dialogues and no fisticuffs, much less gunbattles.
Ashish Kumar is a cool-headed man. He knows how rotten the system is. That doesn’t make him angry or frustrated. Nor is he willing to give up and join the system. From his first day in school, he starts winning over the students, his fellow teachers and even the principal, with care and compassion.
Shiva Suryavanshi, who has co-written the film with director Aditya Om, fits the bill as the soft-hearted yet determined teacher whose passion to teach children knows no bounds. He portrays the character well, bringing out the inherent humility of Ashish Kumar even as he goes about achieving his goals in a systematic manner. But perhaps he could have been a little more expressive. This would have added to the effect of the film.
Ashish’s romantic angle with Usha Devi is subtle and at the same time convincing. Their relationship is full of old world romance, which Hindi films today sadly miss. Their subplot moves along with the story of the film and never appears forced. Sheetal Singh has been perfectly cast and it is a delight to watch her. She is easily the best of the film's cast.
However, the background of Ashish Kumar remains a mystery. We are only told he has left a lucrative IAS (Indian Administrative Service) job to pursue his mission to spread education among the poor. No light is thrown on his family background or why he decided to quit a lucrative job in an elite government service and tread this difficult path.
While the subject of the film is serious, the narrative takes a light-hearted route, just like Ashish Kumar. At the same time, director Aditya Om does not shy away from showing the harsh reality of government-run schools in the little villages of hinterland India.
The moments when the lives of the children as well as the villagers are transformed are overwhelming. You are reminded of Ashutosh Gowariker’s iconic Swades (2004) on a couple of occasions, though, of course, that film had a very different storyline.
The element of conflict, however, is not as powerful in terms of the difficulties faced by Ashish. Perhaps a slightly more heavy treatment might have brought in an added dose of reality. There is no doubt the climax is moving, but it also leaves behind an unanswered question about the injustice faced by one of the main characters.
Maassab also suffers somewhat from the below-average performances of the supporting characters. They make it obvious that they are acting.
Thankfully, the negatives at no point threaten to overcome the positives. Aditya Om's film has its heart in the right place, and so you tend to overlook the low budget and any of the other drawbacks that you spot now and then.
Maassab will be screened at the 14th Habitat Film Festival at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on Sunday 26 May 2019 at 11 am.
Related topicsHabitat Film Festival
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