1. 3 Idiots (2009)
The mother of all satires on the rot that has set into our educational system, this Rajkumar Hirani directed milestone of a movie made magnificent fun of the sacred cows that run the education system. Looking back, the film seems pretty weird in casting actors well above 40, some of them above 50, as students. Also that whole monologue by Omi Vaidya where he mistakenly refers to ‘chakatkar’ repeatedly as ‘balaatkaar’ (rape) seems horribly improper in hindsight. Though 3 Idiots was deeply flawed, it remains a landmark comment on the way we look at academic brilliance and what a heavy toll paternal expectations take on the students’ aspirations.
2. Taare Zameen Par (2007)
This was a brilliant and still-valid study of a dyslexic child’s brave hesitant efforts to emerge from his shortcomings and claim a place of educational supremacy far removed from his parents' expectations. Apparently ghost-directed by Aamir Khan, this is the only Indian film to explore the educational system through the mind of a child. A resounding success, Taare Zameen Par scored with telling emphasis the point that every child must be given a chance to breathe his own brilliance and not become another brick in the wall.
3. 404 (2011)
Prawaal Raman’s underrated psychological thriller focused on the paranoia created in students by the obnoxious ritual of ragging. In the film, a young student occupies a room earlier taken by a student who committed suicide after ragging. The film shed light on the cult of ragging in an eerie supernatural twist designed to make the audience uncomfortable.
4. Why Cheat India (2019)
Soumik Sen’s underrated film is an indictment on exam pressures and how unprepared students make use of doppelganger examinees who pose as students to write out first-class exam sheets. The film showed the Indian education system to be embroiled in a complex financial and moral racket. It was a devastatingly scary view of how far Saraswati (the Goddess of learning) had been subverted in the land of brilliant scholars and students.
5. Hindi Medium (2017)
The best most illuminating, humorous, tragic and devastating satire on the Indian educational system, this Saket Choudary directed film showed Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar as parents of a little daughter resorting to ludicrously desperate measures to ensure the child gets into an English medium school. There is a sequel on the way with Kareena Kapoor in the cast. But I doubt it can capture the eccentricity and exuberance of the original.
6. Setters (2019)
Ashwini Chaudhary’s new film takes us into the notorious world of Setters, brilliant students sitting exams in place of not-so-brilliant ones. The hard hitting film probes the culture of copied glory that threatens to break open India’s education system. Told in a thriller format, Setters promises to be that expose of the educational policies that we’ve all been waiting for. This could well be everything that 3 Idiots was not.