All India Rank is a 2024 Indian coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by Varun Grover in his directorial debut. The film stars Bodhisattva Sharma, Samta Sudiksha, Shashi Bhushan, and Geeta Agrawal. Set in 1990s Lucknow and Kota, it follows a 17-year-old boy named Vivek Singh as he struggles with parental expectations and the intense competition of India’s college entrance exams. Since its release on February 23rd, 2024, All India Rank has received widespread critical acclaim, with praise for its authentic storytelling, sharp humor, and impactful social commentary.
Vivek Singh (Bodhisattva Sharma) is a bright but unmotivated teenager living in Lucknow. His parents, Arvind (Shashi Bhushan) and Sunaina (Geeta Agrawal), fervently believe that cracking India’s ultra-competitive engineering entrance exam is the key to securing a respectable future for their son. However, Vivek’s true passion is creative writing and he dreams of becoming an author.
Against his wishes, Vivek is enrolled in India’s most elite coaching institute in the small town of Kota, which has become an exam preparation capital of sorts. There he joins hordes of other aspiring students spending grueling 16-hour days poring over textbooks and practice papers. Vivek struggles to keep up academically due to his lack of interest in engineering, causing friction with his strict disciplinarian teachers.
He finds solace in his roommate and newfound friend Sumant (Neeraj), a socially awkward genius who defies the institute’s harsh rules. Vivek also kindles a romance with the institute’s top-performing girl, Tripti (Samta Sudiksha), who believes her stellar performance may be her family’s ticket out of poverty. As exam day inches closer, the pressure mounts on all the students to deliver impossible results.
The film explores the immense stress placed on India’s youth, particularly those from middle-class backgrounds, to gain entry into prestigious colleges and secure white-collar careers. It questions whether the intense coaching system adequately prepares students for the real world. All India Rank grapples with themes of family expectations, societal pressures, and the true purpose of education.
Director Varun Grover demonstrates an exceptional eye for visual detail and atmosphere. The film’s cinematography by Archana Ghangrekar beautifully captures both the rustic charm of small-town India as well as the cramped, oppressive nature of the coaching institute and student rooms. Long takes, handheld cameras, and natural lighting effectively convey the drudgery of the students’ schedules.
Editor Sanyukta Kaza uses snappy parallel editing and rhythmic cuts to establish the frenetic energy and high stakes of the exam preparation. References to legendary films about academic pressure like 3 Idiots and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai are also seamlessly incorporated through pitch-perfect music choices from composers Mayukh and Mainak.
The sound design by Vinit D’Souza is a standout, employing both eerie silences and overwhelming cacophony to enhance the intensity of key moments. Ambient noises and score-less scenes allow dialogue and raw emotions to pack the greatest punch.
Newcomer Bodhisattva Sharma is phenomenal as Vivek, portraying the character’s inner conflict and gradual maturity with nuance. He shares great chemistry with his co-stars, especially the charming Samta Sudiksha in a breakout role as love interest Tripti. Veteran actors Shashi Bhushan and Geeta Agrawal are terrific as ever, delivering measured performances that avoid caricature.
Neeraj as Vivek’s friend Sumant also deserves special mention. The young actor skillfully toes the line between comedic relief and heartfelt drama, grounding some of the movie’s most powerful emotional beats.
At its core, All India Rank tackles society’s unrealistic expectations for academic achievement and the damaging effects these can have on young people. The film argues that India’s acclaimed but tunnel-visioned education system rewards only one style of learning and single-mindedly funnels all students towards the same limited set of careers. Those who do not conform or perform up to standards are harshly judged.
The fierce competition for limited college spots turns students against each other and stifles collaboration and well-rounded education. As Vivek witnesses his more privileged peers sharpen their already elite credentials, he also poignantly grapples with how socioeconomic status impacts one’s educational opportunities.
The film drives home its emotional impact through its authentic depiction of youthful desires and insecurities. At stake is not just the students’ future careers, but their sense of self-worth, familial bonds, and personal relationships. Their struggles to reconcile their passions with their parents’ wishes feel deeply relatable.
All India Rank excels in balancing comedic moments and sobering drama. Grover’s smart, witty dialogue contains genuine humor that never feels disjointed. He also directs with a strong sense of escalating tension, ramping up the suspense as exam day draws near. However, the tight 134-minute runtime leaves little room for meandering or lulls.
A clear highlight is the insightful social commentary that feels specific to the Indian educational experience but still resonates universally. Grover captures formative moments with striking sincerity and empathy. His deft direction of the ensemble cast brings out grounded, lived-in performances that make the characters immensely endearing.
If the film has a shortcoming, it is that its earnest messaging occasionally teeters over into preachiness. The climax hammers home its theme of education reform perhaps a few moments too many, losing some of its nuance. Still, even the intended points flirt with being predictable, their delivery feels fresh and impactful.
All India Rank is a must-watch film that will strike a chord with both Indian audiences and international ones. Though centered around India’s unique school system, its poignant coming-of-age story contains universal themes and a timeless emotional core that makes it highly accessible. It is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
While not quite a crowdpleaser in the traditional sense, All India Rank has the intellectual heft and critical accolades to become an awards contender this year. Overall, despite some minor pacing issues and heavy-handed moments, it is a strong directorial debut from Varun Grover brimming with heart, humor and insight. I highly recommend this gripping drama for its relevance, stellar performances and filmmaking craft.