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All India Rank: Varun Grover’s directorial debut is a delightful journey to the ’90s

The slice-of-life drama features Bodhisattva Sharma as a young boy aspiring to crack the IIT entrance exams

Agnivo Niyogi Calcutta Published 29.02.24, 05:35 PM
Bodhisattva Sharma in Varun Grover’s All India Rank

Bodhisattva Sharma in Varun Grover’s All India Rank International Film Festival Rotterdam

Entering adulthood often feels like stepping into a labyrinth of expectations and uncertainties. Varun Grover’s directorial debut, All India Rank, delicately explores this complex terrain through a young protagonist, Vivek Singh, whose personal dreams are pitted against his family’s aspirations amidst the socio-economic backdrop of 1990s India.

The film opens with a poignant question that haunts many adolescents: ‘Kuchh soche ho? Aage ka kya plan hai?’ For a 17-year-old school-leaving student like Vivek Singh (Bodhisattva Sharma), this question is anxiety-triggering, especially when he has to fend off his father’s ambitions. RK Singh (Shashi Bhushan), Vivek’s father, epitomises the quintessential middle-class parent of the ’90s, fixated on the singular goal of seeing his son crack the JEE and grab a spot at an IIT.


Vivek, who is from Lucknow, is packed off to Kota for intensive coaching on the IIT entrance exams. From then on, it’s about how Vivek transforms from a loner, unsure about his future, to a young man finding his place.

All India Rank introduces a group of friends — Rinku (Ayush Pandey), Chandan (Neeraj Singh) and Sarika (Samta Sudiksha) — who breathe life into Vivek’s otherwise gruelling routine. Even as he gets sucked into the rat race of mock tests and solving sums, Vivek discovers there’s more to life than just a rank in an exam.

The film’s title serves as a metaphor for the hierarchical structure that governs the Indian education system, where one’s worth is often measured by standardised test scores and institutional prestige. Vivek’s journey, from his modest upbringing to the competitive atmosphere of Kota’s coaching centres, captures the relentless pursuit of academic achievement that defines many young Indians’ lives.

All India Rank plays off parental expectations and peer pressure against an individual’s desires in a rapidly changing society. Grover brings together a diverse ensemble of student characters grappling with their identities, ambitions and insecurities. From the brilliant Sarika, who loves physics, to the enigmatic Chandan, each character embodies a distinct facet of the adolescent experience.

Where All India Rank falls short is in the novelty factor. Its subject — the cut-throat competitive world of coaching centres — has already been widely explored in the two TVF web series, Kota Factory and Aspirants, and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s acclaimed film 12th Fail, which is still running in cinemas.

Where All India Rank scores is in its portrayal of 1990s India, filled with references to cassette tapes, Shaktimaan, Doordarshan, iconic Sachin Tendulkar posters and the Citra cold drink, accompanied by a soundtrack featuring the best of the ’90s. Grover’s meticulous attention to detail lends the film a palpable sense of time and place.

The cast, consisting mostly of fresh faces, puts on a solid show. Bodhisattva Sharma as Vivek is able to carry the film on his shoulders. As his friend Sarika, Samta Sudiksha is impressive too, although their romantic track feels rushed and predictable. Shashi Bhushan and Geeta Aggarwal are convincing as Vivek’s middle-class parents and their struggle with life’s difficulties while aspiring for a better future strikes a chord.

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