'Aarakshan' to revive reservation debate, says scriptwriter Anjum Rajabali
August 11, 2011
The film Aarakshan, which deals with the reservation policy in the
education sector, has stirred up a controversy before its release this
Directed by Prakash Jha and starring Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali
Khan, it has angered Dalit and backward caste politicians who claim
the film is anti-reservation. Jha and his team point out that the film
has been cleared by the Censor Board without any cuts.
Anjum Rajabali, the scriptwriter of the film, says that this "menacing
trend" of demanding to see a film even after official clearance will
"reduce our freedom of expression".
Rajabali, a former journalist, began his scriptwriting career with
Drohkaal, which he wrote for Govind Nihalani in 1994. Four years later
his film Ghulam, with Aamir Khan, gave his career a fillip and
Raajneeti (2010), for which he wrote the script, screenplay and
dialogue, established his reputation as one of the most original,
credible scriptwriters in Bollywood.
In an interview to Sidharth Bhatia, Rajabali talks about Aarakshan and
says people should focus on the film, not the politics of it.
What is Aarakshan about? We know that reservation is the core of the
story, but what stance does it take?
Actually, the film also takes head-on the exponentially mushrooming
commercial and private coaching sector, which is turning into a
rapacious monster that is not doing any good to learning.
Regarding reservation, since the characters in Aarakshan personify
different shades of opinion on the issue, they do take strong stances.
Not so much the film, I'd say.
Why a film on reservation at this moment, when the issue is dormant?
The issue is hardly dormant! As long as casteism exists here, so will
reservation, and it'll continue to agitate public opinion. Even now,
film or no film, all you have to do is just mention the topic in any
public space — train compartment, college canteen, pub, anywhere — and
see how the debate goes wild! And so emotionally charged will it be
that there won't be a resolution. This is one never-ending debate.
What do you make of the protests and agitations?
This trend of menacing filmmakers and demanding to see the film even
after Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) clearance, is going
to reduce our freedom of expression.
At some stage, this extra-constitutional censorship is going to go out
of hand. Moreover, regarding Aarakshan, my own feeling is that you
might fault it as a film, but I don't think it is politically
Politicians in Maharashtra and elsewhere want to see the film before
you release it. Have you agreed?
Personally, I don't see why one should. But, it is the producer's
call. And his stand has been clear. If a government officially asks to
see it, or if the court directs him to show it, he will. Until now
only the Uttar Pradesh government has requested that. We're showing it
Did the censor board ask for any specific cuts that you did not want to make?
No. The CBFC cleared it for a U/A certificate without a single cut.
It's really ironic that while the CBFC is becoming more sensitive,
liberal and progressive, these other forces are moving in reverse
Can the complex issue of reservation be reduced to a simplistic
equation of merit vs quotas?
No, obviously not. Hence, they're never merely counter-posited in the
film. Moreover, let's face it, this whole notion of merit itself, and
how it is determined today, is questionable. How is scoring high in
competitive exams with the aid of coaching classes meritorious in any
Your films have been mainly political or on strong social subjects? Do
you think political films work at the box office? And was the decision
to take stars motivated by increasing box office appeal?
I really don't see why a film on any subject shouldn't work. I mean
this seriously. Jaideep (Sahni) wrote a very popular film on women's
hockey! Amole (Gupte) swung a story about a dyslexic child! Both
released in the popular space. Right now, a larger canvas may still
need stars as they help bring the crowds in. But, at the end, it is
the film that sends them back satisfied.
Was there any disagreement between you and the director on the stance
and ideology of the film?
There was very little disagreement at the ideological level. What took
months of arduous and sometimes rancorous debate was what to show in
the film and how far to take it.
In the end, how will this film carry forward the debate on
reservations? Or shall we just see it as a film and nothing else?
We tend to overestimate a film's ability to influence public opinion.
The overriding reason people go to watch a film is to get emotionally
involved with the drama of the story. However, what Aarakshan could do
is remind people of the issue, maybe revive the debate for a while
until it settles down to the uneasy equilibrium where it has been all
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