The Backward Class

“Around one in four people in India are tagged as “untouchable,” living in poverty and with minimal opportunity to earn a life above squalor. The Shanti Bhavan school hopes to break the cycle of disadvantage for a select few, preparing them for good careers. The Backward Class follows the school’s first group of potential graduates, as they prepare to take national exams with the hopes of getting into elite colleges.

“Madeleine Grant’s doc won the Audience Award at Hot Docs last year. It is easy to see why. The Backward Class is a gripping, intimate film filled with fascinating characters and subject matter. The Canadian director’s debut work is deeply humanist and compassionate. Grant mines incredible stories and candid insights. Some of these teens’ struggles are universal, meanwhile, the circumstances around them show something different, as a failure to meet their expectations could result in a life back in poverty, pain and sickness.

“Instead of emphasizing the poverty, though, Grant mostly focuses on the feelings of community between the students and their teachers. There is real love and admiration between the leaders of Shanti Bhavan and the future leaders they hope to mould. These young men and women explain their dreams in personal statements that open the film. Despite the hopelessness in the region, the students’ passion to overcome these limitations lift our spirits and keep us interested.

“The Backward Class becomes more intense as the exams approach. In one arresting sequence, quick editing cuts between the uneasy students writing their exams and the fields of manual labour waiting for them in the slums if they do not pass. Distant, slightly foreboding music keeps us on edge during the last third of the film, which takes place between those pivotal tests and getting the results.  These final scenes fill us with almost as much dread and fear for the futures of these young souls as they likely had.”- Toronto Film Scene


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