Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Aarakshan - Movie Review

'Aarakshan' starts with the reservation debate and goes off into many things related to education and society that in the end I got confused a bit. With a fine star cast that includes Amitabh Bachchan as the principled Principal of a reputed college, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Pratiek Babbar and others, and direction by Prakash Jha, I expected more fire and a deeper look at the reservation issue. But to compensate, the film does touch on many other issues which do provoke a thought and I hope someone from the Education department had a look at it seriously, pen and paper in hand.

On the face of it the story is about a reputed college, its idealistic Principal, his daughter, Deepika who has no meaningful role really, an ex-student who is a Dalit, Saif, a current student who is not a Dalit, a coaching centre don, Manoj Bajpai, and an Education Minister. What starts as a small skirmish between the reserved and non-reserved sections, represented by Saif and Pratiek, slowly degenerates into how the coaching mafia, in collusion with the Education Ministry, commercialise the system. The Principal is booted out of the college for his pro-reservation stand, his house taken over due to some complex transaction I did not get, and people everywhere are shouting at him for his pro-reservation stand. With no support from anyone, the Principal starts teaching students for free, something he is good at. Anyway all ends well though there are too many loose ends. The story itself flows and there are no complaints really except that certain things don't seem to fit in. But when you want to say so many things it gets difficult I guess. But to the extent that it has brought the debate out into the theatres, Aarakshan deserves praise.

My problem lies more with the story and the characters. Saif is brilliant as the Dalit junior lecturer. Amitabh perfect for the Principal role and Manoj Bajpai as bankable as ever. Deepika was a waste and it’s not clear why she and Saif and Pratiek are friends - Saif is a lecturer and these two are students. We also don’t know Amitabh’s take on her relationship with Saif, and even Saif’s take for that matter. Amitabh's character also has its flaws, of being inflexible to the point of being unforgiving. His dismissals of Saif and Pratiek, were unconvincing, just as their shunning of him, their respected teacher, was not convincing. Either he is not that great as they built him up because people keep interrupting him and talking back to him at every point. The way he gets duped by his friend's sons is not very convincing either. How everyone turns against him is not convincing either, he is a respected person in the society, and for his remarks on reservation, there is no reason for everyone to turn against him. His own students, the bank manager, his student's old brother, the police inspector, no one seems to treat him with any respect. Save the milkman. Does not speak of a great man to me.

I liked the idea of an Indian Teaching Service. But when he has the opportunity of training teachers to counter the bane of coaching classes, Amitabh decides instead to teach all by himself, for hours and hours until he falls off in fatigue. Is it being egotistic or stupid but he refuses help from his penitent students and struggles on alone. I'd have preferred to see him take the Indian teaching Service route, develop teachers who can contribute, bring in his wide network on students into it and be more participatory, forgiving and resourceful, instead of being a teacher who has no idea of the outside world. How he does not know of his Vice Principal's coaching class scam is another mystery. I'd have liked a better resolution of the debate of reservation as well instead of leaving it to dry after everyone has had their say. 'Aarakshan' stops just short of taking a stand on many things. But it is highly watchable certainly, for some fine performances by Amitabh, Saif and Manoj Bajpai, and for providing a lot more entertainment than most movies do these days. The nitpicking was because I have a high regard for Jha and because he could have done more with the main subject.

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