The 12th Fail review discusses how Indian exams could potentially help combat corruption and poverty.


This movie could be seen as a motivating message for students returning to school after their break. It portrays the belief that, even in a country with widespread corruption and a caste system, success can still be attained based on merit. However, it may also be a bit sentimental.

The vehicle for this is the semi-true parable of Manoj Kumar Sharma (Vikrant Massey), the middle child of a family of farmers from Chambal (a region known for its bandits, according to the voiceover narration). Oppressed by crooked local cops and a mayor who demands bribes for everything, Manoj accepts the life savings of his peppery grandmother (Sarita Joshi) to go to Delhi and take the challenging civil service exams that will allow him to become a police officer.

But, according to a personal instructor who is guiding a group of ambitious students, passing these tests is similar to playing a game of snakes and ladders. Failing once will take you back to the starting point, and there are only a limited number of attempts before you are no longer eligible.

While on his way to the bustling city, Manoj dozes off on the bus and wakes up to find that his suitcase, along with all his money, has been stolen. In a cafe, he crosses paths with Pritam Pandey (played by Anant Vijay Joshi), who also dreams of becoming a student. Pritam treats Manoj to lunch and offers him a place to stay in Delhi as they both face numerous unsuccessful attempts and restarts in their pursuit, as emphasized in a popular song that is frequently played, following the traditional style of Indian cinema.

During his journey, Manoj develops feelings for Shraddha, a poised student (played by Medha Shankar) who chose not to pursue a career as a doctor after experiencing the tragic death of a young girl due to abuse. This traumatic event inspires Shraddha to seek justice for victims of abuse. However, the question remains whether her wealthy family will approve of her marriage to Manoj. At one point, Manoj is forced to work 15 hours a day in a flour mill to support his family, while also spending an additional six hours studying, leaving him with only three hours to sleep each night.

Writer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra keeps pointing out how Manoj’s success is ultimately a kind of arithmetic problem, especially when he learns the secret to passing a key set of exams is learning how to write a dozen 200-word essays in an allotted amount of time. The other big didactic message here is that cheaters never prosper –although the film doesn’t shy away from recognising there’s still a lot of prejudice and bias in the system, whichmakes life tough for guys like Manoj.

However, everything comes together in a very satisfying manner and it is difficult not to grin at the series of photos at the conclusion that feature the actual Manoj and Shraddha posing with the actors who portray them on screen. It may seem overly sentimental, but it never fails to evoke a reaction.