What do you look for in a school? Standard of teaching or the standard of comfort...I bet it would be a balance of both. I know we'd like to believe with all our hearts when we say both but in the extremely competitive world today where schooling has become a rat race and the notion is that the more "equipped" the school is the better it must be... is education taking a backseat? Today, are we BUYING education for our next generations? Milind Ukey's Paathshala raises a question on today's education system albeit it goes awry in it's presentation. Teaching is a profession that is unfortunately step-mothered. Every parent wants to see their child grow up and be a doctor, engineer, a working professional; hardly anyone thinks about their child being a teacher or a lecturer ... someone who's giving back to the world of education. Sadly, we even have demeaning proverbs like "those who can't do, teach"! Paathshala tells the story of a teacher who's given his all to education.
Saraswati Vidya Mandir (SVM) is a school that's been standing tall for generations despite it's old style of infrastructure. It's one of the top schools in terms of education and there's one man who holds this place together, Principal Aditya Sahay (Nana Patekar). He's strict enough to make the children pee in their pants with fear! Supporting Principal Sahay are his bunch of faithful teachers who include extra curricular activities teacher Anjali (Ayesha) and sports coach Chauvhan (Sushant Singh). At a new juncture in this school's history enters English and music teacher Rahul Prakash Udyavar (Shahid Kapoor). Under pressure from the management the school is forced to change its old ways in order to stay abreast with the competition but is it morally right to sacrifice education in the process?
Story writer Ahmed Khan had a lovely concept but the screenplay and the execution of the film has bungled up that concept big time! The film holds your attention raptly in the first half where we're introduced to the workings of SVM. We're meet cheery students, older class boys and girls flirting with each other, the younger ones being mischievous and few girls swooning over their handsome new teacher Rahul. The director develops the characters very well Sushant Singh's "stopwatch" punctuality, peon Waghmare's lovable antics to entertain the students and manager Sharma's selfish motives. It's in the second half that the problem starts, mid-way through the film the story seems to lose focus and the movie goes nowhere. The bit when the school uses media to become popular is utter rubbish! Also the whole story seems to revolve around only 2 batches of student classes... one with Sweeny and other kids and the other with the older 12th standard kids. Though there are many other students in the background but the film doesn't even mention any other standards except these two. After the media drag post interval, I thought the film would pick up and become really impressive at the climax but that doesn't happen either. Though Nana Patekar's speech in the end is very heartfelt and I am sure anyone who's been associated with the teaching profession will be moved by his speech but it doesn't give a wrap to the story or give a solution to the school's financial problem. I was also very disturbed by the way the film presented the trustees of the school treating the principal with such disrespect. I am sure that doesn't happen especially if the principal has such a good and huge reputation!
As for the performances.. Nana Patekar is awesome as the passionate old principal who's given his all to the school. He really reminded me of my school principal who was one of the best teachers ever! Shahid Kapoor is apt as the free thinking new teacher with an air of confidence and a good heart (if only we all had teachers as cute as him... we'd never leave school!!). Ayesha Takia Azmi is alright as the kind hearted matron though she doesn't get much scope. Sushant Singh and Saurabh Shukla are both awesome at their parts especially Saurabh Shukla, he's perfectly mean and he's done the role so brilliantly that you can actually identify him with a couple of real life characters who are that mean and money minded!
The cinematography is mostly confined to indoors of the school and has nothing new to offer. The music by Hanif Sheikh is pleasant to hear; songs like Ey Khuda, Teri Marzi and Bekarar stand out ... though Bekarar only plays in the end credits. But I must say that though the music is nice but the lyrics really aren't connected to the film!! Bizarre!
The elemental question that Paathshala tries to pose is that what is more important, a school that gives a good education or a school that has 5-star facilities. I think the basic question itself is half-baked because a school can have both... a good education and good facilities. As far as raising money from the media was concerned... schools don't only get publicity for students appearing in reality shows, what about schools that win inter-state football, basketball and other sports matches? Thousands of students participate in various Olympiads every year and bring fame to their school for winning. Every year after 10th and 12th board results you read the names of the schools whose students top the list! Paathshala seems to go well in the first half but after that I think it's makers lost interest. This one's one's only partly good and mostly very shallow!