Kids, who see their parents work day and night to make ends meet, don’t just have to pass the board exams. They, along with their parents, put in every ounce of their strength to ensure they pass the everyday pareeksha of staying above the poverty line.

Such is the story of rickshaw-puller Buchchi (Adil Hussain), who picks up rich kids from their comfortable homes, and drops them in front of the enormous building of Sapphire International School. He does this every morning and in the afternoon, while dreaming of his son studying in one of those well-equipped classrooms.

Buchchi, however, remains in his aukat. His son studies in a state board government school, where a teacher’s rare appearance is revered. Buchchi and his wife (Priyanka Bose), who has a job at a local factory, make sure that they work hard on the field so that their son can study without worrying about the finance. “Padhai karna hai tumhe bus, wohi rasta hai humare iss narak se nikalne ka,” the rickshaw-puller tells his son.

Buchchi’s dream of having his kid study in an English-medium school turns into reality when he finds a cash-filled wallet on his rickshaw. He gets the uniform, begs the high-class sahebs and madams and gets his son admitted to the elite school. This “aukaat se bahar ka sapna” costs him when he can’t keep up with their endless monetary demands. In desperation, he takes to crime, only to be lambasted by the unfair society.

Director Prakash Jha’s Pareeksha The Final Test is based on a real-life story from Bihar. The film brings out the honest frustration that low-income groups feel in our society. The yawning class divide and the perpetual difference between the treatment of Hindi and English-medium students, a subject explored by late actor Irrfan in two of his films, Hindi Medium and Angrezi Medium.

Apart from the struggle to earn their daily bread, low-income groups also fight for that much-deserved dignity and respect that they remain deprived of for the most part of their lives.

Bowing, with his hands joined, is how we see Buchchi in most scenes, a sharp symbol of our broken education system. As if he is begging the rich and the mighty to give his bright boy a fair chance to stand among themselves.

Jha has no qualms in showing the reality as it is in Pareeksha. But, it might be the over-simple nature of the storytelling that made his film a bit jarring. In fact, in the first few scenes, you feel as if the director is jumping from one clip to another in a hurry to establish his points. The film’s linear narrative and routine dialogues make it look all too familiar.

The characters have to blurt out lines to establish each and every point. For instance, in one scene, a student of Sapphire International School throws his book and bags on the road after the exam, which Buchchi picks up. The boy says to the rickshaw-puller, “Hum Singapore holiday pe ja rahe hai, vaha se naya lege.” Jha has left no room for expressions or silent moments to talk out loud in Pareeksha.

The film’s actors, however, keep a hold on their audience, especially Adil and Priyanka. From peaceful moments in the familiarity of his home to paddling his way in the brutal world, Adil aces his character. The desperation to get out of the hell called poverty is most visible in his eyes. Priyanka in the role of a strong, bold fellow bread-earner is also effective.

Pareeksha was released at an apt time, given the government has recently made major changes in the education system. Will the new education system grant a level-playing field to the students of all strata? Only time will tell. But the uplifting stories of poverty-stricken kids that we hear every day have a much painful backstory and Pareeksha gives them a platform, and the rest of us, a reality check.

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