P.S. Mithran, an angry filmmaker, channels his anger on education system through his second film, Hero. If his directorial debut Irumbuthirai was a warning letter to our ignorance, Hero is more of a wake-up call to us, the ordinary people, to stop falling in the trap of a system we have been conditioned to follow. Hero could also be one of the most personal films falling under the mainstream umbrella. Do not mistake personal story only to how well the viewers empathize with the subject matter, but also about how much the filmmaker relies on his/her personal experiences to shape the film. Hero checks off both the boxes. In a way, it’s a personal story anyone who has attended schooling in southern part of India. I’m looking at you Andhra, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.
We have all been to schools. At one point or other, we have been ordered to stand up on the bench. If you weren’t, you are lucky. In my 7th grade, our maths teacher made the whole class stand up on the bench, forcing us to raise our hands up, because our “good morning, maaaaaaam” greating wasn’t loud enough. I loathe her and most of my teachers. I’ve studied in 9 schools, and there are only a handful of teachers who stand true to the word ‘teacher’.
Hero is not a glorious cinematic accomplishment. It’s far from perfect, but the dialogue it ignites is one of the most mattering conversations, which we often disregard. Splitting my takeaways from the film, the film takes on capitalism, flawed education system, and the need to keep the inner child alive.
The marriage of Capitalism and the Flawed Education System-
In the tragic reality, they both go hand in hand. A recurring point in the film has the antagonist, who is a representation of capitalism – more than a person or a businessman – inform us how he wants to create swarms of labour. The education system is a convinient medium to achieve it. Even though it’s overdone, he has a point. We are forced, sorry, taught in schools, to accept whatever the teachers say. It’s obedience camouflaged as discipline, which also destroys the one’s individuality. If I draw parallels, a school uniform makes you feel like a part of a clan, where you are just like the one beside you, just like a bunch of machines in an assembly line at a manufacturing plant. Maybe the morning routine of school prayer an exercise of brushing these facts into the students. Where’s the individuality? Where is your unique self? But we are regularly told a school uniform allows students from different backgrounds and cultures come together, making all of them feel equal. Maybe, but doesn’t one’s background make him or her what they are? Why cover your true self with something that gives you an identity, where you as an individual don’t matter?
I may be sounding quite hateful of the education system, pardon me, but that’s what I’ve acquired from my personal experiences. During the opening moments, a female teacher asks the class what they aspire to be when they grow up, as if she really cares or that her contribution would actually help them. The answers aren’t path-breaking. One says doctor, the other says lawyer, and when it’s the turn of the protagonist Shakti’s younger self, he says he wants to grow up to be Shaktimaan, the famous Indian superhero from the ’90s. The teacher reconfirms whether he aspires to become a TV actor, but Shakti assures he wants to help people and fight crime. The teacher, being the (south) Indian teacher she is, immediately demoralises the little guy. The scene is a representation of my school life, where I came across dozens of teachers who already disowned their profession. But should they be blamed for what they are? Only partially. Remember that they were students once.
Humiliated, Shakti jumps off the school building believing Shaktimaan would save him, but he doesn’t because reality and fiction prevail seperately and never collide. Fiction borrows from reality, and Hero reflects reality. Although Shakti survives the falls, he dies within upon listening to his father’s words. He’s a child, anyway. His father convinces him to study hard because that’s the only that can empower him.
The dream that died inside is further buried by the capitalism that initially feeds the education, and later feeds on the education system. Again, the antagonist doesn’t matter as a person, in this case, he is the emodiement of a dangerous ideology coupled with financial oppression. As a person, he hardly matters. In a scene, he literally makes a kid into a soulless body, which agrees to do whatever it is ordered to. He injects him with some serum, which doesn’t matter. If you observe, the serum is the syallbus, the syringe is the school, and the antagonist is capitalism, but the boy remains a boy.
Hero emphasis the vitality to differentiate education and education system. While the former teaches how to lead the life, the latter conditions and confines you to live in a perfunctory way without taping on the full potential.
Keeping the inner child alive-
When the world (and screenplay) forces him, Shakti is asserted to transform into Shaktimaan. It’s by necessity, not by choice. In the end, no matter how systematic and processed we become, the inner spark is what defines us and gives a unique texture to our character. For what Shakti does, the vigilance, doesn’t need the brand of a superhero. But it’s his childhood dream that takes shape, out of forced consequences. That’s his rebirth. Piercing out of the dump that the education system has pushed him into. The film packs in too much, but it does get the point conveyed. Marks and certificates aren’t the credibilities to judge a person’s talent. It might sound as a lame excuse for someone who isn’t interested in studying, but the film backs this point very strongly. Probably too much, I’d say. The word exaggerated befittingly expresses the treatment of the film. But being a crowd-puller it is designed to be, the filmmaker has to be louder than the screaming fans, to make himself heard. And Mithran nails it. Even as the end credits roll, we see mini documentary-style interviews of real people with their innovations, and all these people have either high school drop outs midway or flunked. But they’ve achieved more than what you and I did. Now, do their mark sheets matter?
Hero answers that question, and the answer is loud and clear.
PS (just betweeen us): Having studied in 9 schools in different parts of India, I can reassure all them sucked.
PPS: We had a drawing teacher (married to the principle), who forced me to stand outside the classroom during her class because because I had painted the sky red. Who imposes drawing?
Hero is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.