The thing with wanting to weave socially relevant subjects into cinema is to remember that there must be strong logically coherent arguments written into the screenplay. The thing with wanting such cinema to do well commercially is to remember that the theme is rarely the hero - it almost always sits on the shoulders of someone already larger than life. Think Swades
, Taare Zameen Par
, 3 Idiots
or the Munnabhai series.
Paathshaala touches upon, nay, smears its face with the issue of the over-commercialization of private schools. It would have been quite a sensible presentation had there not been a built-in thread of cliches overshadowing the whole experience.
Rahul Prakash Udyavar (Shahid Kapur) is a teacher who has just joined the 70-year-old Saraswati Vidya Mandir headed by a well-meaning dedicated principal (Nana Patekar). The school is starved of funds but the evil members of its management want it upgraded at any cost. So to begin with, the kids are made to pay to avail of facilities that they have a right to use for free, the canteen is stacked up with colas and junk food, and the fees are hiked.
Paathshaala then starts irrecoverably faltering right from the point where it seriously needs to build some character of its own. Uni-dimensional "media consultants" are brought in to inform the teachers that the school must be in the news no matter what, that the kids must feature in every reality TV show ever conceived, that the institution must now be marketed as a "brand" so that revenues can be generated.
Your "sheesh" moments have only just started. Pretty kids are picked for ad shoots, reality show auditions cruelly shatter children's self-esteem, photo-ops and random film crews keep bleeding their focus on studies - and ultimately, the school is a bunch of tired nervous wrecks.
The teachers (including Ayesha Takia and Sushant Singh) are all miffed and parents raise their pitch in protests, but the atrocities continue. Finally, they whole school puts its foot down to demand answers from the principal.
Most unfortunately, Paathshaala starts off like a TV serial on staff room politics pitting hapless school teachers and students against the management. Moreover, the treatment is amateurish, and what ruins an already weak story is the hard-to-tolerate banality of individual scenes.
Then, there are generically TV-made half-baked school-related sequences without any real thought behind the conceptualization - a romantic track, for example. Also, there is the issue of feebly written dialogues.
It's almost embarrassing to watch each of the actors just do his or her own thing. While the clean-scrubbed waist-jacket-toting Shahid is unconvincing as a teacher, his attempts to bring in cinematic weight to the proceedings fly in the face of his measly role. No Mohan Bhargava
The bubbly Ayesha Takia is also not too well-cast, but she's a pleasant asset whenever she's around. And while Sushant Singh is given a couple of the corniest lines in the flick, Saurabh Shukla stands out for being the character most overshadowed by the actor.
As for Nana Patekar, he's hardly more than a guest star in this rather banal offering. The kids are familiar faces all over cinema and television, and they're all professional - weighed down by cheesy melodrama.
A couple of well-composed songs and the background score lend body to the film, but the cinematography is quite ordinary.
In sum, this is one less option for you this weekend.