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An ABCD’s Review of 12th Fail


Recently, Bollywood has been filled with progressive movies touching on a variety of unconventional topics. Rocky Aur Rani, Jawan, and now 12th Fail—the story of a boy from a village that is notorious for being inhabited by bandits becoming a top officer in India’s Police Service. Now, this isn’t a typical Bollywood action-packed, rom-com, musical number-filled movie. As an American Born Confused Desi (ABCD), I concur that the multitude of issues addressed by this movie are shown in their raw, realest form—something that’s rare in India’s more conservative cinema.



We start in Chambal, India. Enter Manoj Kumar Sharma, an aspiring student who promises his mother that he’ll change the world while making post-its to cheat on during his final exam. Now, Manoj’s school doesn’t mind the cheating. After all, they just want their students to graduate, no matter the means necessary. After getting caught by a new deputy officer who intends to instill change in the village’s dynamics, Sharma fails 12th grade and starts back at square one. He vows to never cheat again, a common theme that frequently comes up throughout the movie and establishes his virtuous character. In addition, his determination is like no other now that his father has left to fight for his job back, leaving the family to fend for themselves. Barely passing 12th grade, a naive but determined Sharma heads for the big city, Alwar, intending to become a Public Civil Service officer. But lo and behold, PCS wasn’t accepting any new officers. Broke and hungry, Manoj Sharma meets Pritam Pandey, who tells him about a different social service opportunity that would grant him the highest-ranking officer position. His new challenge is now the Union Public Service Commission, or UPSC exam, which will give him an India Public Service (IPS) officer position. Pandey himself intends to take this exam, not for his own sake but for the sake of his father.

Pandey takes him to Delhi, where he works in a library all day to pay for tutoring and self-studies in his spare time. He meets his mentor and point of stability through his journey, Gauri Bhaiya, who introduces him to the setup of the exam. It starts with the written Prelims, then the Mains, and finally, an interview. Three attempts were allowed for this process. Gauri Bhaiya motivated Sharma with one simple word: “Restart.” Though he failed the UPSC exam himself, Gauri Bhaiya stayed positive and opened up a tea shop to help aspiring IPS officers. 

Manoj’s first attempt fails when he clears the Prelims but fails the Mains. Restart. Pandey, who didn’t even pass the Prelims, begins to resent him as jealousy overcomes him. Sharma’s second attempt begins with him being captivated by a girl intending to become an IPS officer as well, Shraddha Joshi. While studying and spending time together, Manoj misleads Shraddha into believing that he’s an aeronautical engineer. One day, during a tutoring session, Shraddha learns the truth and leaves Delhi. Manoj’s second attempt ends the same as his first, except now he is heartbroken and jobless. Devastated, he heads home for his grandmother’s comfort, only to find that she’d passed away. His mother provides him with the motivation he needs to return to Delhi, where he starts working in a flour mill in a hole in the wall. Restart. Pritam, Manoj’s father, and finally Shraddha come to visit him to get him out of his horrible working conditions and focus on his studies. Gauri Bhaiya orders him to lodge in the tea shop at no cost, expecting Manoj to pay him back when he earns a salary as an IPS officer. There, Manoj studies day and night, focusing on the root of his failures: the Mains. Shraddha forgives him and they embrace their love for each other, one that rejuvenates Pritam’s jealousy. 

As Shraddha passes all components of the examination, Manoj finally makes it past the Mains on his third and last attempt. His happiness does not last, though, as Pritam drunkenly takes out his anger on him, and Shraddha’s parents find out about their relationship. But Manoj had one more examination to pass: the interview. While preparing for the interview, Manoj has to bail Pritam out of jail, only to find that Pritam was the one who told Shraddha’s parents about their relationship. Conciliation between Shraddha and her parents occurs, and she comes to visit Manoj to support him in his time of need. Finally, the interview day comes, along with a fresh haircut, a new suit, and forgiveness toward Pritam. 

The interview brought out Manoj’s honest, true nature. He was advised by a passerby to lie about why he barely passed 12th grade, but instead, Manoj chose to be honest and told the interviewers the story of how he was the only student who didn’t cheat on his 12th-grade exam. Although this would show the interviewers that he wasn’t smart enough to receive top marks on the exam, it demonstrated his commitment to honesty. During the interview, Manoj used metaphors and descriptions to describe where he came from but walked out of the room feeling uncertain. The interviewers whispered of how arrogant he was to come in and advertise his wisdom. Nevertheless, Shraddha, his now fiance, assured him of a positive outcome. And positive it was. Shraddha and Manoj get married as two successful IPS officers, while Pritam finds his place in life as an entertainer.



Many components of this movie set it apart from your everyday Bollywood film. Although I haven’t watched quite enough of them to be a reliable critic, I know a good story when I see one. One of the elements that stood out to me, though, was the lack of overdramatization. Yes, this feature is truly what makes a Bollywood film a Bollywood film—the main character’s lover slaps them as a rebuke for all their wrongdoings, and the camera captures this slap from all possible angles to emphasize the severity of this action. Overdramatizing is Bollywood’s specialty, and to a certain extent, it is appreciated without being seen as cringeworthy. However, there is a limit to the number of movies I can watch before the slow-motion scene where the smoke screen clears to reveal the hero rushing in with machine guns and a flashy motorbike gets old. 12th Fail keeps it real by giving the viewer an honest interpretation of what it takes to make a name for yourself coming from nothing.

Another component of this movie that may be considered controversial, especially in the Bollywood realm, but definitely plays a part in preserving this movie’s purity—the romance. Shraddha and Manoj’s love story was slow, had its ups and downs, didn’t have the intimacy of a typical Bollywood romance, yet still made me swoon. Many movies get lost in the relationship between two characters, even if it isn’t the focus of the story. 12th Fail, however, displays Manoj and Shraddha’s relationship as a short and sweet one, even though it’s so much more than that to both of them. They are motivated by each other rather than dependent on one another. They support each other rather than giving in to jealousy and separation. They work together to improve themselves and maintain a healthy relationship. Even when the world tears them apart, they come back together in a loving manner rather than a toxic one. I may be young, but even I know that this kind of love is hard to find and maintain in a world full of chaos, manipulation, and opposition.

There was another component of this movie that shook me to the core: Manoj’s unwavering dedication to becoming an IPS officer. Yes, there are many stories that illustrate the difficulty of becoming someone successful, but as I’ve said before, Manoj’s story is shown in its raw, realest form. His vow to never cheat and continuous drive to study no matter the circumstances is what makes him the Manoj Kumar Sharma. At one point in the movie, Delhi experiences a blackout, and the lamp Manoj studies with loses power. Determined to continue working, he brings his work outside and starts reading under a streetlight. Cold yet courageous, Manoj climbs the ladders to the top with nothing but sheer willpower.

Even in the end, Manoj was never sure if he would end up becoming an IPS officer. Regardless, he knew he was going to change the world in some way or another. When he walked out of his seemingly disastrous interview, he was sure he had failed his last attempt. That didn’t matter to him. If he couldn’t create change as an IPS officer, he would occupy any other position and make a difference from there. Uncertainty is a part of life—you’ll never know what’s coming next—but the main takeaway from this lesson is to find another way. Find another way to reach your dreams. Find another way to be who you want to be. Find another way to climb out of any deep, dark hole you find yourself in. That is what Manoj’s story is all about.


Call it what you want, 12th Fail stands apart from your everyday rags-to-riches tale. Manoj’s story is certain to inspire the vast crowd of lazy people worldwide (after all, it inspired me). He continues to change the world today alongside the love of his life and two children. He has proved himself to be one of the greats, even if he started out as nothing. So every time you’re down and unmotivated, remember that if Manoj Sharma could do it, so can you.

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