Many moons ago, we laughed our hearts out when the studious Chatur Ramalingam who believed in rote learning made a fool of himself on stage. Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots showed one needn’t succumb to the conventional education system to emerge a winner. Later, we empathised with Sid who fought his way from failure in Ayan Mukherji’s Wake Up Sid. Then there was Sukumar’s breezy campus caper 100% Love showing the length students and parents go to in quest of marks. Madhura Sreedhar’s Backbench Student, with a different story, builds a case in favour of backbenchers.

Karthik (Mahat Raghavendra) is an engineering student least interested in studies. He bunks college, hangs out with his motley groups of friends and falls in love with Priyanka (Archana Kavi). At the end of four years, Karthik is left with 16 backlogs while his friends scrape through. Priyanka opting to leave to the US comes as an added blow. He has to swim against the tide, fight his own shortcomings and prove his worth.

What begins as a comment about the education system and the employment scenario that hinge on marks and degrees takes a different turn when Karthik meets Chaitra, a loner software engineer caught in a tight spot.

Unlike 100% Love, this story doesn’t have a taut screenplay and crackling humour to keep it from getting boring. Also, not one student is shown to have any focus. One pursues engineering because his dad wants him to, another does it because it will help his family business and the third wants to study engineering because that’s what everyone else is doing. Even Priyanka aims to pursue MS programme in the US because it’s her father’s wish. Leave alone the curriculum, the film doesn’t show anyone honing their skills in any other stream. Much later we come to know Karthik is a pro at ethical hacking, a skill that comes to his aid. And pray, why will a girl return from the US, leaving her masters programme midway, all in the hope of getting back with her boyfriend who hasn’t responded to her emails or spoken to her?

Agreed, it’s subjective to speculate on how each character would have reacted to situations but the film wavers between the story of a backbencher trying to find his identity and the triangular love story that unfolds at an extremely laidback pace.

At one point before the climax, nearly all the characters from the heroine to the friends talk about wanting clarity. Perhaps some clarity in the screenplay would have helped. Even Brahmanandam’s presence doesn’t help much. And why is he called Kareena Kapoor?

Piaa and Archana have potential while Mahat has a long way to go as an actor. Insi Gutta, cast in a supporting role, brings in a few laughs.

Backbench Student has good music, cinematography and is a clean film meant for family viewing. The clothes and styling of Piaa and Archana are believable and something young women can relate to.

This is a film with an honest intention of arguing in favour of backbenchers. If only the screenplay had been better…. and that’s a big ‘if’.

BACKBENCH STUDENT

Cast: Mahat Raghavendra, Piaa Bajpai and Archana Kavi

Direction: Madhura Sreedhar

Music: Sunil Kashyap

Plot: A backbencher rises above the system and has two young women fighting for his attention.

Bottomline: The intention is honest but a smart script to back it is sorely missing.