When educator Anand Kumar introduced his Super 30 program in India a few years ago, he said he hoped it would help make quality education accessible to all.
His brainchild, that tutors underprivileged children, in batches of 30, for one of the world’s most competitive exams – the entrance to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), is today the subject of a mainstream Bollywood film with the same name.
The educator and mathematician spoke to Reuters about how the box office success of “Super 30”, starring popular actor Hrithik Roshan, has changed his life. He also opened up about the lure of IITs and the future of his Super 30 program. Here are excerpts from the Hindi-language interview:
Q: When did you watch ‘Super 30’, the film? What did you think of it?
A: I watched it a day before it released. I really liked the film and felt like Hrithik Roshan was almost like a shadow of my self. Several times, not just me, but my entire family, who was watching with me, wept. We didn’t just enjoy the film, we felt it.
Q: Did the film play out like you imagined it would?
A: The story of my life is big, and I wasn’t sure if they would be able to fit it all in. But they have managed to pack in quite a lot, sometimes in dialogue, if not in actual scenes. Like the time that some people filed a case against me and sent one of my associates to prison, they have alluded to it in a line of dialogue.
Q: How much of the film is based on true events?
A: Most of the things are true, but they have all been made a little more dramatic. The parts where my father was attacked, where I met ministers, etc, those are all true.
Q: How has life changed for you since the release of the film?
A: It changed in the sense that earlier very few people would recognize me – only those who had followed the Super 30 program closely, but now I find many more people know who I am. I am stopped at airports, other public places, and people tell me how much they loved the film. They praise the work I am doing. That gives me great satisfaction.
Q: Will this film have an impact on the future of the Super 30 program?
A: Yes, I hope so. At least five state governments have made the film tax free in their respective states, and I am hopeful that more will follow suit.
The Delhi government has asked me to come and run a teaching program in their schools. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has also invited me to his state. I met the Chief Minister of Rajasthan yesterday and he asked if we could open a branch of Super 30 there. So there are many positive things happening.
The bigger change is in the youth, who are convinced more than ever that they have to work hard. The film shows the value of perseverance, and I am hoping they inculcate these values.
Earlier, most Indian parents wanted a good teacher for their kids, but they didn’t want their kids to grow up to be teachers – they wanted engineers or doctors. But so many people told me that after watching this film, they want their kids to grow up to become educators. That is a big shift.
Q: Why is there such a high demand for an IIT education or an Indian Administrative Services position in north India? What is the lure?
A: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, these are all states where there are no industries, no trade, and no jobs, unlike western states like Gujarat and Maharashtra. “Yahaan shiksha hi kheti hai (Education is the crop here)”. It is the only thing that can lift you out of the mire.
Look at Bihar now, floods have ruined the crops here. If there are no floods, there is a drought. There is nothing there. All the rich mineral land and the mines have all gone to Jharkhand. Therefore, education is life here.
The only difference is that there used to be no opportunities. Now, the people have become more aware. Earlier, a driver would serve his master, hoping to pass on his job to his offspring one day. But now, that driver thinks differently. It doesn’t matter if he has to sell the last piece of land in his name, but he will work to make his son a “bada sahaab (important man)”.
Earlier, when politicians asked for votes, voters begged for jobs for their children. Now, they ask for better schools, better facilities. They know that education is the only way out. That is a marked change.
Q: The Indian education system is riddled with corruption and commercialization. How do you view this?
A: Yes, but that is also the fault of governments. There is such a yawning gap in the teaching in government schools and in the level of competition exams. Someone has to fill that gap.
The rich kids will pay their way out, but the poor will be left behind. You cannot ban coaching – the trick is to increase the level of education in government schools.
Q: What’s next for the Super 30 program?
A: I have a long-standing dream of opening a school of excellence for underprivileged kids. But the most expensive thing in this country is land. If someone gives that to me, I will make sure I run this place.
I don’t want to just focus on IITs. Any field, where the child wants to study, my institute will help them. I am hoping this film takes me closer to fulfilling that goal, because now a lot more people know about my story.
Q: Vikas Bahl, the director of 'Super 30', has been accused of sexual harassment. Did this make working with him uncomfortable?
A: No, I just thought that time will be the judge. If he is guilty, it will come out, and if he is cleared by the committee, then the film will release. But he had worked hard on the film, and hard work can never go waste.
(Edited by Blassy Boben; This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission.)