All India Rank is a sparkling sex education satire disguised as a dull IIT tale | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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All India Rank is a sparkling sex education satire under the guise of a dull IIT aspirant tale

ByDevansh Sharma
Feb 29, 2024 08:13 AM IST

Varun Grover's directorial debut All India Rank is most effective when it's calling out the Indian academic system for what it grossly neglects: sex education.

Varun Grover's directorial debut All India Rank may be an IIT aspirant tale on the face of it, but at its heart, the film is all about regaining control. For the protagonist Vivek (Bodhisattva Sharma), control doesn't imply a 12th Fail-like underdog victory where he fights all odds to make it to India's premiere technology institute. Neither does it entail the 3 Idiots way of life: chasing excellence, not success. For him, the IIT aspirant journey is secondary, it's transient, where he's on autopilot. The control that he seeks is on his hormones.

Varun Grover's All India Rank is a thriving sex education satire
Varun Grover's All India Rank is a thriving sex education satire

(Also Read: 12th Fail, All India Rank, Laapataa Ladies: Return of the mid-budget movie to theatres)

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‘Sambogh se samadhi’

No, Vivek doesn't go all Animal in the film, but like most ‘90s kids, conversation about sex is grossly absent from his life, at home or at school. But just because they’re not talking about it doesn't mean it doesn't feature in their lives. Sex education, or the lack of it, maintains a tight grip on all the characters' lives. For instance, Vivek's coming-of-age at the Kota hostel isn't as much academic as it's sexual. When his seniors dismiss the IIT prep as moh-maaya and hail sexual pleasure as the only purpose of life, Vivek can't help but submit to that ideology.

Like majority of his generation's kids, adulting hit him before puberty could. From a very young age, aspirations and expectations are drilled into his head. At a time when he's still coming to terms with his boyhood, he's thrown into the deep end of manhood. At an age where he possibly wants to discuss his crackling voice, hair on his chest, and sexual temptation with his father (Shashi Bhushan), all he gets to hear is an incessant chants of ‘IIT,’ as if his dad has the limited vocabulary of a Pokémon named IIT.

Unlike the Gen-Z, Vivek doesn't have the luxury of consuming porn that's one click away. Born in a generation devoid of the internet and smartphones, or rather in a family that drops every inter-state call at the cut-off of 4 minutes despite owning a phone booth, Vivek has to rely on the guilty pleasure of every ‘90s kid: pulpy Bollywood magazines. Rangeela’s breakout star Urmila Matondkar becomes his sexual fantasy, even though he's never seen her groove to Yai Re Yai Re.

Spoilers below

His competition with fellow coaching students isn't really about who gets a higher mock test score. That's not the race his horse is running. It's determined by whether he's reached the kissing stage (on the lips, mind you) with his girlfriend. The only time the academic score counts is when it's mixed with betrayal of bro code. His friend Chandan gets a higher rank, although he pretended to his pals that he doesn't study. When asked the reason, he equates it to him being the Shah Rukh Khan of Darr (a dangerous stalker), and not the Shah Rukh Khan of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (a harmless persuader). The result? His BFF Ishaan dies by suicide, not because of his lower rank, but because of his friend breaking the bro code.

Only if the boys were secure of their sexuality, in control of their hormones, and immune to peer pressure that they could've prevented the competition from turning unhealthy. Similarly, if only Vivek had the tools to comprehend and react to desire better – desire of both himself and his girlfriend Sarika (Samta Sudiksha). He's taken off guard when she refuses to be his ‘friend’. She's relatively a more sexually mature teenager who objects to the patriarchal concept of all boys being dubbed as her brothers. A bright student, she's emancipated enough to confess her fondness to Vivek, although he reacts awkwardly with the second-hand good-boy wisdom of, “But mujhe padhai karni hai.”

The Shawn Michaels invasion

This isn't the first time Varun Grover has addressed what he calls in one of the film's songs, ‘Noodle sa dil.’ Back in 2015, Neeraj Ghaywan's Masaan, which he co-wrote, started with Richa Chadha's character of Devi watching porn at an Allahabad cyber café only to try the act out with her boyfriend in a hotel room later. When she gets arrested and is asked why she committed the ‘crime,’ she said it was out of ‘jigyasa (curiosity).’ Masaan is a cautionary tale where curiosity is penalised, but All India Rank shows how suppressing sexual curiosity can lead to no good.

Vivek's coming-of-age journey runs parallel to his parents'. Through this device, Varun demonstrates how lack of sex education at home is going to come back and bite the parents. Vivek's voiceover explains how his mother and father have their Kryptonite in sweets and smoking, respectively. This can be viewed as their chosen substitute to sex, since the act has clearly gone out of their middle-class window. The father's desperation to curb his urge leads to his suspension when he distractedly gets a local politician to cut an inverted tricolour cake on India's 50th Independence Day. And the mother? Well, her struggles are far worse.

She (Geeta Agarwal) can't even verbalise the word when she wants to inform her husband that a boy talks dirty ‘sex’ at her phone booth. She has to write the three-letter word down in a diary for her husband to look at her with disgust. Mohit (Saadat Khan), whose name means ‘tempted,' doesn't have the means to satiate his sexual desire, just like Vivek. His weapon of choice isn't pulpy magazines, but phone sex. Again, devoid of a cellphone, he visits the booth regularly to cold-call women on their landline numbers and talks dirty with them under the pretence of ration card enrolment. The way Mohit licks the phone receiver and clicks his tongue when the woman hangs up on him is a direct peek into sexual deprivation of '90s kids while growing up.

His choice of alias is also quite interesting. Shawn Michaels was a WWE wrestler who rose to prominence in the ‘90s. Known as ‘the Heartbreak Kid,’ his entry music went like, “I'm just a sexy boy, not a boy toy.” For kids of Mohit's generation, WWE was one of the few avenues of soft porn as the show would stage what it called a ‘Bra & Panties Match’ between women wrestlers and the Kiss Cam, where members of the arena audience are encouraged to lock lips. The way Mohit says, “I want to kiss you” or “I want to have sex with you” is so borrowed that one can make out it's something he's picked it up from an American show. But haven't we all? From the Baywatch and Sex and the City likes.

It all remains fun and harmless, till Mohit is banned from the phone booth by Vivek's father. As a result, he channels all his pent-up sexual rage into violence by splashing water on Vivek's mother and throwing stones through their window. She's horrified, but doesn't have the awareness to realise how lack of conversation around sex (or her fear to even say the word to her husband) contributes to the cycle. She even hesitantly holds her man accountable for asserting his masculinity by controlling their son, instead of actually protecting his wife. She wants him to be Shaktimaan, when all he is is Gangadhar Shastri.

The father also comes of age when he discovers that the lewd and unapologetic Mohit is an IIT Kanpur student. It's then that All India Rank strikes as a sex education satire. It's not the most sparkling IIT aspirant tale because it doesn't want to be. It doesn't wish to place equity on homogenous struggle as much as it wants to underline the importance of discovering one's voice. It'd have been nice to see All India Rank own its intent by being more direct and urgent. It ends up replicating all the “achhi baatein” of Indian kitaabein, but also inserts that witty Princess Diana analogy: “Sundar thi wo. Sundar logo ko zyada der jeene nahi dete.” All India Rank may not be a thing of beauty, but it's a joy for ever.

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