Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Prateik Babbar, Manoj Bajpai
Director: Prakash Jha
After 'Rajneeti', director Prakash Jha once again holds a mirror to society, taking up the issue of reservation in the education system with 'Aarakshan'. The film takes different perspectives; showing us that really, the victims of the politics of reservation are the students themselves.
Yet where 'Rajneeti' was structured into a narrative based on 'The Mahabharata' and 'The Godfather', 'Aarakshan' drifts away without any anchor. It's a script stuck in a 70s locker, taken out and dusted, but you still can't shake off the feeling that it's dated.
That sadly has as much to do with the filmmaker's treatment of the subject. With endless, lofty speeches and idealistic melodrama, Prakash Jha turns 'Aarakshan' into a deathly boring slog.
Amitabh Bachchan stars as the upright Principal of an esteemed college in Bhopal, who sees the point behind reservation because he believes it'll bridge the gap of opportunities between the haves and the have-nots. An educationist to the core, he conducts free tuitions for weak students in his backyard, and strongly opposes the very agenda behind paid coaching centres because he feels that colleges themselves should be conducting 'remedial classes' to help students.
His idealistic values make him unpopular with the college board, that places the corrupt lecturer Manoj Bajpai in the position of Vice Principal, so they can get rich students with poor marks in through capitation fees.
One of the junior professors at this college is a Dalit played by Saif Ali Khan, the son of a poor ironing lady in Bachchan's basti, who gets a scholarship to the US based on merit.
Meanwhile, Bachchan butts heads with Bajpai as the whole simmering resentment over the caste divide spills over the Mandal reservation issue. The other players in this drama are the Principal's daughter, played by Deepika Padukone, who is in a relationship with Saif; and Prateik, who is their friend and a fellow student at the college.
Their friendship is tested by the caste divide when Prateik fails to get admission to the college of his choice because of seats being blocked by the quota system.
As you can see, Prakash Jha takes a bird's eye view of the entire complicated system of education. Unfortunately, it looks as if he bit off more than he could chew because 'Aarakshan' gets unnecessarily convoluted and grates on your nerves.
When Amitabh Bachchan resigns, he finds his house taken over by the unscrupulous sons of his friend, who turn it into a coaching centre. This now spurs the ex-Principal to start giving free tuitions in a tabela, with a bunch of students nestled in a class next to a buffalo shed. Like a true underdog story, the classes run by Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone then take on the mighty coaching classes run by Manoj Bajpai.
One of the chief problems with 'Aarakshan' is that it's all too altruistic in its message. Everyone becomes a caricature: Bachchan's do-gooder Principal, Bajpai the scheming, money-minded coaching-class owner, and yes, the whiskey-guzzling ministers we last saw in 'Rajneeti' are here too.
With so much to say, the movie drags on endlessly, with over-written scenes, over-the-top emotions and dialogues that are so heavy, they end up being inaccessible. Of the performances, every actor seems to go through the motions and only Manoj Bajpai inserts some spark onto the screen.
'Aarakshan' is well-intentioned, but you can't shake off the feeling that you're trapped by a three-hour-long tirade. I'm going with a generous two out of five for Prakash Jha's 'Aarakshan'. If you don't want to be lectured, stay at home.
Pratik Ravani, Bangalore
KS Sundaram, Bangalore
Kunal Jain, Jaipur
Bhivesh Behl, New Delhi
What's your reaction to 'Aarakshan'?