Star cast: Nana Patekar, Shahid Kapoor, Ayesha Takia, Sushant Singh.

Plot: Shahid Kapoor joins the faculty of a school as English teacher. He realises there are many problems facing the school, including imminent closure due to recurring losses. How he sets out to correct the situation is what the film is all about.

What’s Good: A few light moments, a couple of songs.

What’s Bad: Choreographer-turned-writer Ahmed Khan’s childish story and ridiculously crafted screenplay.

Verdict: Everyone associated with the creative side of this film needs to go to a filmmaking paathshaala to learn the basics of commercial cinema. This Paathshaala will fail the box-office test.

Loo break: Plenty – anytime!

Eros International and Paperdoll Entertainment Inc.’s Paathshaala is the story of a school, the trustee of which wants the principal to make the school earn profits by hook or by crook, failing which he threatens to demolish the school to make way for a commercial building.

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Aditya Sahay (Nana Patekar) is the principal of Saraswati Vidya Mandir School and he is as respected as he is feared by his students and faculty alike. Rahul Prakash Udyavar (Shahid Kapoor) joins as the new English teacher who doubles up as the music teacher too. Among the other teachers are Anjali Mathur (Ayesha Takia) andChauhan (Sushant Singh). Lallan Sharma (Saurabh Shukla) is the school manager while Waghmare (Anjan Shrivastava) is the peon.

Principal Aditya Sahay starts behaving in a weird manner with his staff and tries to introduce new policies without telling them why. The teaching staff, in turn, threatens to resign en masse but soon takes back its threat when it realises that the principal has made arrangements for alternate staff members.

Meanwhile, Sharma keeps coming up with new money-making devices which involve fleecing the parents of students and forcing them to buy expensive stuff from school. Principal Sahay also appoints a marketing agency to spruce up the image of the school. The agency uses fair and foul means to build the brand of the school so that more parents send their children to this school and, therefore, augment its income. Sharma also makes the students do things like participating in shootings in return for charges which go into the school’s coffers.

Finally, one day, Rahul thinks up a plan to revolt when he realises that Principal Sahay is helpless.What is that plan and what impact does it have on the principal?

The story (by Ahmed Khan) is as childish as the kids studying in the school which is the focal point of the drama. Ahmed Khan’s screenplay is no better than his story! Although it starts from a school, the screenplay meanders to cover reality television shows and even exposes how fake such shows are. Frankly, the film gives the impression that Ahmed Khan is generally cross with the world and wants to expose everything that he is unhappy about, whether or not it fits into the scheme of things.

There is hardly anything that is subtle in the film, with almost everything being over-exaggerated, right from actions and reactions of the characters to performances of most of the actors. Why Principal Sahay does not take his staff members into confidence and tell them that the trustee (Naseer Abdullah) is pressurising him to close down the school is not clear. What was the need for him to be so secretive about it? In the climax, Principal Sahay admits that he did not reveal the truth about the proposed closure of the school to his teachers because he thought, they wouldn’t be able to take it. Wouldn’t be able to take it? But why? The teaching staff members are all shown to be so understanding and mature that there was simply no reason for Sahay to assume that they would not be able to understand the situation. This is the weakest link in the story and since the entire drama is built on this premise, the story holds no water. What is worse is that the audience has enough hint to understand that Principal Sahay is not the culprit and that there must be talk of a commercial complex in place of the school because they (audience) get a glimpse of an architect’s design of a high-rise building. Believe it or not but the same Principal Sahay, who thinks nothing of the maturity of his teachers, is extremely subtle in the climax in conveying to the kids that he has heeded their request to him. That means, he considers five- and six-year-old children as being supremely intelligent to understand his subtleties but assumes that the teachers, who teach those children, are dumb. Nothing could be dumber than that. Also, the teachers threaten to resign en masse because they are all genuine and principled, but they backtrack the moment they get to know that the principal has made alternate arrangements for new teaching staff. This makes the teachers look like opportunists who have no scruples, which is not the case.

Hanif Sheikh’s dialogues are good at a few places but too flowery and contrived at most of the places. Emotions touch the heart only in one scene when Rahul teacher asks his students to make friends with one boy whom they had all along ignored. Otherwise, emotions fall flat. There are a couple of comic scenes but in the other comic scenes, the comedy is childish and doesn’t evoke even a smile, leave alone laughter. Scenes have been stretched unnecessarily and often irritate the viewers.

Nana Patekar does an average job and adds nothing to the character to make it any different from the many characters he has played in the past. Shahid Kapoor has more of a special appearance kind of a role although he is the hero. No doubt, his presence is felt throughout the drama as his scenes are evenly spread out, but his absence in many scenes does hit the audience. Also, although Shahid has a romantic image, there is just no romantic track for him, something the audience will resent. His acting is generally good but he does tend to go overboard in some scenes and gives the impression that he is trying very hard to tell people, he is so cute. Ayesha Takia is natural and restrained. Saurabh Shukla is fairly good. Sushant Singh impresses but gets limited scope. Anjan Shrivastava overacts to the hilt. His grandfather tales are rather irritating. Naseer Abdullah passes muster. Child actors Sweeni Khara, Dwij Yadav and Avika Gor are natural. Master Priyesh is excellent as Parth. Sunny Singh, Bicky Ahuja, Shraddha Arya, Kainaz Motiwala, Preeti Kopikar, Canny Singh and the others lend able support.

Milind Ukey makes a dull debut as director. He needs to bear in mind certain things as captain of the ship – that it pays to remain focussed, that it pays to not be repetitive, that it pays to be brief. Hanif Sheikh’s music is good. ‘Aye khuda’ song is a hit. Its lyrics (Hanif Sheikh) are also appealing. The other songs are tuneful. Song picturisations (Ahmed Khan) are appropriate. Background music (Hanif Sheikh) is dull. Badshah Lal Sayed’s camerawork is good.Editing (Ashfaque Makrani) is not sharp. Sets (Kishan Gupta and Prabhat Thakur) are ordinary.

On the whole, Paathshaala will fail at the box-office – and quite miserably at that!

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