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‘Nil Battey Sannata’, if translated literally means zero divided by zero and is a slang usually used for the one who is good for nothing, is a powerful and honest work devoid of the kind of pretension one usually sees in a large number of Bollywood movies; it actually gets the point across without making a typical song and dance number out of it.

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ : Movie plot and review

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ is a brilliant movie appreciated by many critics, where Swara Bhaskar plays the illiterate maid, Chanda, who nurses a dream to educate her 15-year-old daughter- Apeksha played by Ria Shukla. Chanda spends her days and nights, meticulously collecting each penny, and saving it to get Apeksha enrolled in a coaching class, but something she can’t help her with is her pre-boards, which she is supposed to pass with a minimum of 50 per cent marks in order to fulfill the eligibility criteria. She often finds herself getting immersed in a state of frustration upon the girl’s attitude, which is on the lines of hierarchical job transfer – exclaiming ‘bai ki beti to bai hi hogi na!’ This brash, young and carefree girl throws some really nasty stuff at her mother – and it is only at those moments you realize the conversations are scripted.

The quirky idea of  getting Chanda enrolled in the same class as her daughter, initiated by Chanda’s boss (the brilliant Ratna Pathak Shah), leaves her flabbergasted. At the same time, being a teenager, Apu (as Apeksha is lovingly called) feels embarrassed and appalled about her mother being not just her classmate, but also very popular and hardworking. As Apu sulks away, her mother throws an open challenge: ‘beat me in a math test, and I’ll leave the school.’ Apeksha, for the first time, starts focusing on her studies. She bests her mother in the subject but Chanda continues to attend school, for a reason which is too big a spoiler.

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ : Watch this movie, it is totally worth it. It is a treat to watch the mother-daughter duo fight trigonometry and learning formulae. But I must admit that, at least to me, Pankaj Tripathi, as the eccentric zealot maths teacher cum professor who tries his best to draw his students aversion of mathematics, steals the show. The second half does drag on a bit with some preachy stuff that goes on and a rendition of the generic ‘Maa’ song, but the performances make up for all of it, leaving room for more.

A take on the Indian Education System

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ is not just a touching story of a mother and her daughter – but also a great chapter on the importance of education. It tells us that a parent’s limitations need not stop his/her child too. But is the Indian Education system doing it right?

The Annual Status of Education Report produced after conducting a survey in rural areas by the non-governmental organization Pratham, reveals that though enrollment is high, at over 96% (a free mid-day meal is a major incentive), pupils do not learn a great deal. After three years 60% of them still cannot read, except for their first name maybe, compared with 54% four years ago.

Numbers like the ones above indicate towards a learning crisis, threatening development in a country where half the population of over 1.27 billion is under the age of 25. These appalling statistics beg us to reconsider the state of our education.

Right to Education?

What about the Right To Education Act of 2010, you ask? It requires all children aged six to 14 to attend school. Oh, it is beautiful, on paper. What it doesn’t pay attention to is what the students actually learn in the tattered sheds, which remain deserted but for dogs and our bovine overlords, sometimes known as school. The Government has opened many such ‘schools’ in remote areas.

These are often run by ill trained ‘teachers’ who are paid a pittance. They are mostly single classroom, multi-grade affairs. The reasoning seems to be that it is alright to sweep the important stuff to proudly claim that a school has been successfully set up in a remote area. These substandard schools lead to poorly educated kids, which in turn leads to poverty and an illiteracy trap.

Although education is a right, it still remains a dream for many of India’s children. Instead of opening up the educational sector to improve its quality, the government constantly attempts to control it for political gain by appearing as the provider of essential services. However, those who have the power and influence to circumvent the rules are able to run private institutions that may not adhere to government regulations. The government seemingly has an inability to improve the quality of education in public schools that charge no fees and offer subsidies for students from poor families.

All the points listed spell out (not subtly) that the Indian Education System is far from being best. The foundation to turn India into a strong nation has to be laid down at primary and rural levels in order to have a better quality of education right from the beginning. Education and text books should be made interesting. For students from rural areas there should be textbooks related to their culture, their traditions and values, which would in turn attract them to studies. Improving the condition of government schools, quality of education, committed teachers and more salaries to these teachers should be part of development. It is clear, and has long been, that it is not enough to make laws; they need to be augmented by more efforts. Typed-in reforms may seem like a rich idea as long as they are on paper – but reality demands a stern and immediate acting hand.

A movie worth watching, ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ doesn’t just portray a beautiful relationship of a mother and her daughter, but at the same time shows the real face of the education system in our country.

India has the brainpower. It’s for our government to optimize the spending on the education system for a better future.

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