AARAKSHAN Review: Flawed but significant

Despite the flaws, Prakash Jha’s film should be watched, if only to initiate a healthy debate about the issue of reservation and its implications. And the Punjab government now agrees and is allowing screenings across the state

There has been a lot written and said about Prakash Jha’s controversial film, even before it hit the screens. Many said that the ban on it, as some states had imposed, was a publicity gimmick, while some – like Mahesh Bhatt, Anurag Kashyap and Hansal Mehta – used the occasion to point out that freedom of expression in cinema is non-existent. But politics aside, Aarakshan is flawed, primarily because of some bad casting decisions and the Mauka song which stuck out like a sore thumb.

What works best is that Jha doesn’t take sides. As much as the film talks about pro-reservation, it also highlights the plight of those whose lives are ruined by the beneficiaries of the reservation system. The film starts with an instrumental rendition of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn – Vaishnava jana to. The lead protagonist, Dr Prabhakar Anand (superbly played by Amitabh Bachchan) embodies the translation of the first two lines of the hymn: a person of God is the one who understands the pain of others. Such a person helps those in need, and does not boast about it. This person is polite to all people and does not condemn or criticise anyone.

The film revolves around Anand’s tryst with the power brokers in the political corridor, capitalists, students of his college and his own family who are torn between his take on reservation and life as they know it. His protégé Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan) and his daughter Purbi (Deepika Padukone) are in love, but Dilip, who belongs to the underprivileged class, has to deal with a sudden increase in reservation of seats for Dalits. Professor Mithilesh Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) wants to cash in on the ‘Shining India’ by running his ‘KK Coaching Classes’ on the sly.

From a story about the reservation issue, Aarakshan soon becomes a tale of the tussle between Anand and Singh. The Saif-Deepika love track is almost non-existent, probably thrown in for visual relief. Prateik, hailed as a ‘talent to watch out for’, is the biggest embarrassment in the ensemble cast. He hams through the film and cannot speak the local language. In stark contrast, both Amitabh and Manoj fit their roles to the T, thanks to their flawless diction.

Kudos to Jha for taking on the challenge of shooting a film of this scale. A logistical nightmare, Aarakshan had almost all of Bhopal in attendance. The visuals are reminiscent of Jha’s previous film, Raajneeti. But a let down came from the music score by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics. But the film itself is worth a watch, at least to initiate a healthy debate so that the gap between the two co-existing Indias, of haves and have-nots can be bridged some day.