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‘12th Fail’ Movie and Manoj Kumar Sharma’s Biography ‘12th Fail’: the discrepancies
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‘12th Fail’ Movie and Manoj Kumar Sharma’s Biography ‘12th Fail’: the discrepancies

Vaibhav Kharat

Many UPSC aspirants may have started their UPSC preparation this year with strong resolutions, like Manoj Kumar Sharma’s Har Nahi Manunga, after watching Vidhu Chopra’s recently directed and produced ’12th Fail’ movie, starring Vikrant Massey. The film portrays the journey of a 12th fail boy who later goes on to become an IPS officer. For UPSC aspirants, especially those from diverse backgrounds, particularly rural areas of India, this movie serves as new motivation and aspiration. It resonates with their struggles and dreams of becoming an IAS or IPS officer.

The movie claims to be based on the true story of IPS Manoj Kumar Sharma’s life. However, after watching the movie and listening to the audio version of Manoj Kumar’s biography, ’12th Fail’, by Anurag Pathak on Kuku FM and YouTube, I was shocked to find discrepancies. The movie is a complete misrepresentation and distortion of the true events in the book. The director-producer hides Manoj Kumar’s social location, manipulates his geographical location from Gwalior to Delhi, ignores his caste privilege, and devalues the roles of women, especially his mother and a girl named Anshu Didi, in supporting his struggle. The movie also masks Manoj Kumar’s social capital, shaped by his ascribed identity as a so-called Savarna Brahmin. It attempts to portray Brahmin-Savarnas like ‘Sudama’, as economically weaker but renowned for their industrious and hardworking nature with a rich intellectual heritage. However, it conveniently omits mentioning their inherent cultural dominance, cultural hegemony, and caste-based social advantages. Prof. Dilip Mandal aptly states, “12th Fail is a film that quietly slides the privileges under the rug.”

Here, I aim to explore the narrative dissonance between the book and the movie, highlighting and exposing the hypocrisy of Savarna film producers and directors in distorting real-life narratives for cinematic purposes under the guise of artistic liberty, creative freedom, or intellectual liberty.

  • The scene where, after Manoj’s 12th class results, he fails and starts a passenger-carrying business in a vehicle called ‘jugad‘, has a feud with a Vidhayak bus conductor for passengers, and his brother hits the conductor with his chappal, is not an incident associated with him or his brother. Instead, it is connected to another jugad driver when Manoj himself was a passenger going for his 12th classes. In academic terms, it distorts the context and explicitly plagiarizes someone else’s efforts or experiences.
  • Another scene glorifies Manoj’s victimhood of thefts during his first trip to Gwalior. His luggage, including all the money given by his grandmother, was supposedly stolen by women. In reality, neither his luggage was stolen nor was it his first time traveling to Gwalior. He was already pursuing his B.A. in Gwalior and stayed in the garden and temple, not on the footpath, because the key to his cousin’s room, where he lived, was taken by his cousin’s roommate due to personal dislike. The two scenarios have different contexts, rendering the claimed truth of this scene inaccurate.
  • A scene depicting Manoj meeting Pritam Pandey for the first time at the Gwalior station canteen, where Pandey was heading to Delhi and Manoj went with him without a single penny in his pocket, differs significantly from the book. The book reveals that Manoj had spent four years in Gwalior, attempted the PSC examination, and later found out about the UPSC through a girl named Anshu Didi, who acted as his social capital. She convinced him to go to Delhi for UPSC preparation and assisted him with the financing of ten thousand rupees. The film ignores her crucial role as his initial guide and instead gives credit to a male character, Pandey, reflecting a Savarna patriarchal perspective where only males are considered saviours, friends, philosophers, and guides.
  • The movie’s scenes depicting Manoj working as a public toilet cleaner, library assistant, and working in a flour mill (atta chakki) for 12–15 hours while preparing for UPSC in Delhi present a blatantly false narrative. It portrays Savarna Brahmins engaging in rigorous physical labour similar to the SC, ST, and OBC people. Although Manoj did perform these jobs, the locations and contexts were entirely different. He cleaned toilets—not public toilets in Delhi, but his own room’s toilet—and washed his roommate’s clothes when he lived in Gwalior during his BA. His roommate was a senior Savarna English teacher, and the cleaning was done under a verbal contract for English lessons, not for earning money to send home. Similarly, he worked in the library and at an atta chakki in Gwalior after completing his B.A., not in Delhi. At that time, he had no knowledge of UPSC. His work in Delhi while preparing for UPSC included walking dogs for evening rounds for two hours for two to three months, earning eight hundred rupees per month. The rest of his time was dedicated to being a full-fledged UPSC aspirant. However, the film portrays a different narrative, falsely depicting his extraordinariness and sending misleading messages to all UPSC aspirants.
  • The movie scene featuring an OBC UPSC aspirant named Gauri Bhaiya, who, after having two more attempts than the general category, fails to crack UPSC, is nothing but defamation of the reservation policy. It emphasizes an anti-reservation discourse, directly suggesting that despite having reservations, SC, ST, and OBC individuals cannot compete with the general category, framing reservations as a waste of national resources. The scene fails to acknowledge how panelists or interviewers often assign marks based on the candidate’s social location, including caste and demography, rather than solely considering merit. The producer conveniently ignores the failed attempts of his Savarna friends Pandey, Gupta, and Naval, as mentioned in the book.
  • In a classroom coaching scene, Vikas Divyakirti teaches about rockets and asks a question about the law that governs their operation. When Shraddha points out that Manoj, who claims in an interview to be the only student who did not cheat during his second attempt at the 12th board exams, is unable to answer, the scene raises questions about whether or not he cheated. It begs the question of why he couldn’t provide a simple answer—Newton’s third law—given that he had science in 12th class and also if he had sincerely prepared for the exam, which he took twice.
  • Another scene depicts Pandey being detained by the police, and Manoj, after learning about it, goes alone to the police station. He questions the police constable, cites sections from the IPC (Indian Penal Code) and CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure), discusses cognizable and non-cognizable offences, and accuses the constable of corruption (ghuskhori). In reality, as the book states, Manoj and his friends continuously pleaded with the police constable to release Gupta, not Pandey. The scene presents a misleading portrayal of his life, making UPSC aspirants believe he was daring and able to face the police alone.
  • To capture the Dalit-Bahujan audience, the producer correctly depicts in an interview scene Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s thought of “Educate, Agitate, and Organize.” However, as per the book, in his interview, Manoj did not quote Dr. Ambedkar but referred to Swami Vivekananda’s thought of “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.” This demonstrates the Savarna appropriation of Bahujan icons. A shocking incident is also shown where panelists initially ask him to leave after hearing about cheating but later call him back in, which exaggerates what happened; he only stood up at the end of the interview, and a panelist asked him, “How many attempts have you made, and if you don’t pass this time, what will you do?” to which he quotes Swami Vivekananda and exits the interview board room.

In conclusion, the movie ’12th Fail’ reveals the intricate connection between cinema, identity, and the way stories are narrated based on one’s caste location by Savarna producers. The misleading, misrepresented, and inaccurate portrayals in the movie undermine its credibility as a biographical film claiming to be based on a true story. The deviations from actual events and discrepancies from Manoj Kumar Sharma’s real experiences, as suggested in the book, initiate a broader conversation about the ethical responsibilities of filmmakers and how cinematic narratives can shape our perspectives. While UPSC aspirants draw motivation from the film, being aware of these disparities contributes to cultivating a more informed audience.

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References

https://youtu.be/wIZqlbWz4XY?si=ieZ6wRoV_yisgdJf

https://theprint.in/opinion/12th-fail-isnt-just-about-vikrant-masseys-struggles-its-really-about-his-caste-privilege/1908789/

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Vaibhav Kharat is a graduate in sociology from Fergusson College, Pune, and is currently pursuing MA in Sociology from, the Center for The Study of Social Systems (CSSS ), JNU, New Delhi. He’s active in the Ambedkarite Movement at college and university campuses and has a keen interest in Anti- Caste philosophy, Pragmatism and Feminist Philosophy.

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