Directed by Prakash Jha. Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Deepika Padukone, Prateik
Aarakshan is a sheep in wolves’ clothing. With a provocative title, a director like Prakash Jha and all the pre-release controversies and bans raked up over the presumed theme of this film, you’d expect it to be, at the very least, a film that takes a stand on the sensitive issue of caste-based reservations. Instead, this film is a disappointing cop-out.
Caste-based reservations? Well, to each his own. It’s complicated. Forget about it. But now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you what’s bad… Private coaching classes. They are evil. That’s Aarakshan for you.
This film is less about caste-based reservations and more about private coaching classes. But it does have all the pretenses in place. A morally upright and socially conscientious college principal, his devoted dalit disciple, a strong-headed daughter caught between her father’s ideals and her personal opinions, a conniving opportunistic professor, a frustrated victim of the reservation policy… it’s all there. And the first hour of the film fools you into believing that it is all going to add up to an explosive mix centered around the issue of caste-based reservations. It is towards the intermission that the whole film loses its plot. Or rather, gets a convenient new one. One with an obvious resolution. A disappointing cop-out, to say the least.
Among the performances, Amitabh Bachchan, as always, dazzles in an author-backed role, bringing both strength and sensitivity to his character. Manoj Bajpayee delivers another performance that proves why he is one of the best actors in Bollywood. Blue-blooded Saif Ali Khan is surprisingly convincing in a role against his grain. Yes, Ajay Devgn would have brought rawness to this role but Saif Ali Khan makes up for it with his sincerity. Deepika Padukone stands her ground in a demanding role. On the whole, the ensemble cast does lend conviction to the proceedings but the film disappoints by straying away from the core. Towards the end, it gets boring and repetitive, piling on clichés and platitudes in spades.
Aarakshan proves that there are some gray areas that simply cannot be trimmed and tailored to fit the Bollywood entertainer mould. Some issues that even Bollywood, in all its broad-strokes-forever-blase mode, cannot toy around with. Indian state policy of caste-based reservations in education and employment is one of them. There simply is no denouement to the subject. You cannot wrap up such a complex and layered topic in pretty packaging and tie it up with a bow of climactic everybody-goes-home-happy resolution. Most would realise that at script level. Prakash Jha, it seems, needed to get half-way into a making this film before this reality dawned on him. Or may be that never was his intention. Himself quite a political creature, may be he knew that simply using that word in the title would serve his interests well enough. The story, the issue, the audience be damned. Because, Aarakshan betrays the promise of its name. And of its director.
<Tushar A Amin is the author of Bollywood Themes and former editor of FHM India. Follow Tushar on twitter: @tusharaamin>