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### A Sparkling Satire on Sex Education Disguised as an IIT Aspirant’s Story

By Devansh Sharma

Feb 29, 2024 08:13 AM IST

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Varun Grover’s maiden venture All India Rank shines brightest when it exposes the glaring gap in the Indian educational system: the absence of comprehensive sex education.

While Varun Grover’s directorial debut may initially appear as a narrative centered around an IIT aspirant, at its core, the film delves into the theme of reclaiming autonomy. For the protagonist Vivek (Bodhisattva Sharma), control isn’t synonymous with a classic underdog triumph akin to “12th Fail,” where he overcomes insurmountable challenges to secure a spot in India’s premier technology institute. Nor does it align with the pursuit of excellence over mere success, a la “3 Idiots.” Instead, for Vivek, the journey of an IIT aspirant serves as a backdrop—a transient phase where he operates on autopilot. The true control he craves pertains to his hormonal impulses.

Varun Grover’s All India Rank is a thriving sex education satireVarun Grover’s All India Rank emerges as a poignant satire on sex education

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‘Sambogh se samadhi’

No, Vivek doesn’t emulate Animal from the Muppets in the film. However, much like many ‘90s kids, discussions about sex are conspicuously absent from his familial and educational milieu. Despite the silence surrounding the topic, it undeniably shapes their experiences. The absence of sex education exerts a profound influence on the characters’ lives. Notably, Vivek’s transition to adulthood in the Kota hostel is more about sexual awakening than academic pursuits. When his seniors dismiss the significance of IIT preparations as mere illusions and extol the pursuit of sexual gratification as life’s primary objective, Vivek finds himself succumbing to this ideology.

Similar to most youngsters of his generation, Vivek confronts the challenges of adulthood prematurely, even before puberty sets in. From a tender age, ambitions and expectations are ingrained in his psyche. Just as he grapples with the nuances of boyhood, he is thrust into the complexities of manhood. At an age where he may yearn to confide in his father (Shashi Bhushan) about his changing voice, sprouting chest hair, and burgeoning desires, all he receives is a relentless chant of ‘IIT,’ as if his father’s vocabulary is limited to a singular word—’IIT.’

Unlike the Gen-Z cohort, Vivek lacks the convenience of accessing readily available adult content online. Growing up in an era devoid of the internet and smartphones, in a family that abruptly terminates interstate calls after four minutes despite owning a telephone booth, Vivek resorts to the guilty pleasure of most ‘90s kids: glossy Bollywood magazines. Urmila Matondkar, the breakout star of “Rangeela,” becomes his object of desire, despite him never witnessing her iconic dance to “Yai Re Yai Re.”

The competition among his peers at the coaching center isn’t solely based on academic achievements. It transcends mere test scores. It hinges on whether one has progressed to the stage of kissing (on the lips, to be precise) with their significant other. Academic prowess only becomes relevant when intertwined with betrayals of friendship. Vivek’s friend Chandan attains a higher rank, despite feigning disinterest in studying. When probed about this incongruity, he likens himself to Shah Rukh Khan’s character in “Darr” (an obsessive stalker) rather than the benign lover from “Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa.” Consequently, their mutual friend Ishaan tragically takes his own life not due to his academic standing, but because of Chandan’s violation of the bro code.

Had these young men been more secure in their sexuality, in command of their impulses, and impervious to peer pressure, they might have averted the toxic turn of their rivalry. Similarly, had Vivek possessed the tools to comprehend and respond to desires—both his own and his girlfriend Sarika’s (Samta Sudiksha)—more adeptly, he could have navigated their relationship with greater maturity. Caught off guard by Sarika’s refusal to remain just ‘friends,’ Vivek responds awkwardly with the clichéd notion of prioritizing studies over romance.

The Shawn Michaels Influence

This isn’t the first instance where Grover has explored what he terms in one of the film’s songs as ‘Noodle sa dil’ (heart as fragile as a noodle). In 2015, in Neeraj Ghaywan’s “Masaan,” a film he co-wrote, the narrative commenced with Richa Chadha’s character, Devi, watching porn at an Allahabad cyber café, eventually attempting to replicate the scenes with her boyfriend in a hotel room. When confronted about her actions post her arrest, she attributes it to ‘jigyasa’ (curiosity). While “Masaan” serves as a cautionary tale where curiosity is penalized, “All India Rank” underscores the repercussions of suppressing sexual curiosity.

Vivek’s journey into adulthood unfolds in tandem with his parents’. Through this parallel narrative, Varun elucidates how the absence of sex education at home reverberates across generations, eventually affecting the parents themselves. Vivek’s voiceover sheds light on his parents’ vulnerabilities—his mother’s weakness for sweets and his father’s smoking habit. These coping mechanisms can be interpreted as substitutes for intimacy, given that their marital relationship appears devoid of physical affection. The father’s desperate attempts to quell his desires culminate in a suspension when he inadvertently involves a local politician in a controversial event during India’s 50th Independence Day celebrations. Meanwhile, the mother grapples with her own set of challenges.

She (Geeta Agarwal) struggles to articulate an incident where a young man uses lewd language (‘sex’) at her telephone booth. Incapable of verbalizing the word, she resorts to jotting down the three-letter term in a diary, eliciting a look of disgust from her husband. Mohit (Saadat Khan), whose name ironically translates to ‘tempted,’ lacks the means to satiate his sexual urges, much like Vivek. Unlike Vivek’s reliance on pulp magazines, Mohit engages in phone sex. Deprived of a personal cellphone, he frequents the booth to make unsolicited calls to women, engaging in explicit conversations under the guise of verifying ration card details. The scene where Mohit licks the phone receiver and clicks his tongue after being rebuffed by the woman offers a stark portrayal of sexual frustration among ‘90s adolescents.

Mohit’s choice of pseudonym is equally intriguing. Shawn Michaels, a prominent WWE wrestler from the ‘90s known as ‘the Heartbreak Kid,’ often proclaimed, “I’m just a sexy boy, not a boy toy.” For individuals like Mohit, WWE served as one of the few avenues for titillating content, featuring segments like the ‘Bra & Panties Match’ and the Kiss Cam, which encouraged audience members to engage in public displays of affection. Mohit’s scripted lines like, “I want to kiss you” or “I want to have sex with you” bear a borrowed quality, hinting at his emulation of Western media tropes. However, this emulation isn’t unique to Mohit but resonates with a broader cultural influence experienced by many during that era, courtesy of shows like “Baywatch” and “Sex and the City.”

The narrative retains a lighthearted tone until Mohit is barred from using the phone booth by Vivek’s father. Subsequently, Mohit channels his pent-up sexual frustration into acts of aggression, targeting Vivek’s mother by splashing water on her and hurling stones at their window. While she recoils in horror, she fails to recognize how the absence of open dialogue on sexuality (or her reluctance to broach the subject with her husband) perpetuates this cycle. She tentatively holds her husband accountable for prioritizing his son’s obedience over ensuring her safety, yearning for him to embody the fictional superhero Shaktimaan, when in reality, he resembles Gangadhar Shastri.

The father undergoes a transformation upon discovering that the brazen and unapologetic Mohit is a student at IIT Kanpur. It is at this juncture that “All India Rank” transcends its facade as an IIT aspirant tale to emerge as a poignant satire on sex education. The film eschews the conventional trappings of a typical IIT-centric narrative in favor of emphasizing the importance of self-discovery. While a more direct and urgent approach in conveying its message would have been welcomed, the film refrains from conforming to the conventional tropes, interspersing profound insights with clever analogies, such as the reference to Princess Diana: “Sundar thi wo. Sundar logo ko zyada der jeene nahi dete.” (“She was beautiful. Beautiful people are not allowed to live long.”) “All India Rank” may not epitomize aesthetic perfection, but it certainly promises enduring delight.

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