Film Review: 'Aarakshan', A Terribly Simplistic Movie About A Complex Subject
August 12, 2011 4:04 pm by Deepanjana Pal
Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone in 'Aarakshan'.
Director: Prakash Jha
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Prateik, Manoj Bajpayee
Here are some of the things that Aarakshan teaches you over three-odd
hours. Politicians are evil. There is a nexus between politicians and
businessmen. Coaching classes and private tuitions are good business.
If someone flares their nostrils, they are villainous. Upper-caste
people wear more formal attire. Moments of melancholic introspection
take place only on rainy nights.
Aarakshan is set in Bhopal, in the spring of 2008. Amitabh Bachchan
plays Dr. Prabhakar Anand, the principal of Shakuntala Thakral
Mahavidyalaya. He's revered by one and all and, during his 32-year
tenure, STM has become one of the finest educational institutions in
the country. It's the kind of place that students die to get into,
literally. The trouble starts when the state education minister's
nephew says he will commit suicide if he doesn't get into STM.
Unfortunately for the nephew, he doesn't have the grades and Anand
refuses to make an exception. Since Anand is one of those honest
people who can't be pressured to change his mind, the education
minister and his gang set out to destroy him. In this gang is
Mithilesh Singh (Manoj Bajpayee), a teacher at STM and the owner of
the very successful KK Coaching Classes, who ends up becoming Anand's
arch-nemesis. Among those who get tangled in this enmity are Deepak
(Saif Ali Khan), one of STM's former star students and a teacher;
Sushant (Prateik), whose father, a trustee on STM's board, is Singh's
ally; and Purvi (Deepika Padukone), who is Anand's daughter and is
also an STM student.
While all this is happening, Deepak and Purvi fall in love; Deepak
gets accepted into Cornell University to do a PhD in applied
mathematics; and more critically, the Supreme Court rules that there
must be a separate quota for Other Backward Castes. This means a
smaller slice of the admissions pie for upper-caste students, some of
whom, like Sushant, don't get seats in the colleges of their choice
despite scoring well in their exams. Overnight, all hell breaks loose.
First, Deepak and Sushant fight. Then Sushant and Anand fight. After
which, Deepak and Anand fight. Then Deepak and Purvi fight.
When it looks like Aarakshan must end because none of the main
characters is willing to look at or talk to one another, Anand is
accused of being pro-reservation by a journalist who twists his words.
People from the upper castes treat Anand with contempt, he loses his
job and his home, and ends up in a cowshed while Mithilesh Singh is
made principal of STM. Anand vows to bring down Singh. How? By giving
free coaching classes. Quickly, he has a throng of students from poor
families. And soon enough, rich kids, who were shelling out big bucks
for tuition, leave places like Singh's KK Coaching Classes and join
Anand's "tabela school".
No one would argue the fact that director Prakash Jha's heart is in
the right place, but his naïveté is surprising. According to Jha, the
answer to the thorny question of how the playing field of education
may be levelled in India is to make education free and find sugar
daddies or mommies that will fund the institutions. A film about
caste-based reservation needed more intelligent and subtle
storytelling. It should have had more dynamic and rounded characters,
with shades of grey.
Instead, Arakshan is two films for the price of one. Not only is it
twice as long as most films, the first half is about the reservation
quotas while post-intermission, it becomes a film about teaching.
Pre-intermission, Jha makes sure all the major characters get a punchy
set of dialogues. For example, Deepak speaks up for Dalits and other
lower castes. On the other hand, Sushant articulates the frustration
felt by people who are not casteist and feel quotas get in the way of
merit-based success. The attempt is to present a balanced view.
Unfortunately, all it serves to do is make Aarakshan feel terribly
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