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Movie Review: Why you must watch Aarakshan

Aarakshan awakens the India spirit in you and makes you want to make a change, if only for about two hours of this 2hour, 40min film. The feeling could stay well after the end credit roll, it being Independence weekend and all. So, reserve your seats for this nationalist drama.

Aarakshan is set in 2008 and explores the reservation system in India for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and Other Backward Castes. The film takes on the education system via a stellar ensemble cast comprising Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Manoj Bajpayee, Prateik and Tanvi Azmi. It exposes discriminatory aspects of the system and hypocrisy in private and governmental educational institutes in the country.

Prakash Jha’s name is now synonymous with making socially relevant films and Aarakshan is one of them. And he has a winner on his hands.

Amitabh Bachchan as Dr Prabhakar Anand, principal of the Shakuntala Thakral Mahavidyalay (STM) in Bhopal works selflessly towards making it one of the most coveted institutions in the area. His compassion towards the less fortunate is legendary as is his righteousness, much to the chagrin of those wanting to mint money off the institution by floating private coaching classes and purchasing admission seats.

You may start to question the huge portraits of Hema Malini hanging on the walls in most of the indoor scenes, but the high-powered scenes manage to distract you from it.

 Movie Review: Why you must watch Aarakshan

The script does justice to the reservation story idea as do the dialogues.

Though Bachchan has played a disciplinarian before, you are not reminded of any of the earlier performances in Mohabbatein or Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, to name a few. His performance as the ageing Principal who is being taken down by the corrupt system, is flawless, but you already know that, given his acting repertoire. Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan), a Dalit student whose mother worked menial jobs to raise him, owes his education to Dr Prabhakar, and is trying to get into a PhD programme in Cornell University, USA. He is friends with Sushant (Prateik), your typical Pajero driving rich kid; and Poorbi (Deepika Padukone), the daughter of the Principal, both of whom study in STM.

The romance between Deepak and Poorbi is played out subtly, sans any shrieking histrionics and unnecessary drama that usually accompany an onscreen affair. One song, Accha Lagta Hai, is all it takes to establish their attraction for each other. The second one, Mauka, simply establishes the camaraderie between the couple and their diverse backgrounds and environment. The song does come in a tad abruptly, but once it pops in, you sit back and enjoy the beat.

Manoj Bajpayee as Mithilesh Singh, the face of political evil and STM’s vice-principal, openly runs KK coaching classes in cahoots with the local politicians, against University rules. He incites students against the Supreme Court ruling on further reservation, and Deepak and Sushant fall for his hate politics as a result of which, both fall out with Dr Prabhakar. Sushant is rusticated and Deepak is asked to leave for insinuating Dr Prabhakar may just be a casteist. He goes off to Cornell. The scene where Sushant and Deepak get into a verbal squabble come in suddenly, without any lead in.

Mithilesh goes on unabated, causing havoc in the Anand family, even opening a KK coaching centre overnight in their own home. Left homeless, and hapless by the intricately woven lies, deceit and power play, Dr Prabhakar refuses to bow down to the system and opens a free coaching class opposite his home — in Shambhu’s tabela — and it works.

No Bollywood film is complete without the mandatory snags and gaffes in either continuity or research. When Deepak calls Poorbi from the US, she looks at her mobile phone. The number reads ‘Deepak’ with a +91….number. For starters, it should have been a US number. Secondly, since she had broken up with him, how did she have his US number? The only plausible explanation could be that Deepak used his Bhopal number on international roaming. For someone whose mother irons clothes to feed her family, it is a little hard to believe.

Deepak’s return to India is predictable and when you see the film, you’ll see how. But the 40-odd minutes depicting the usurping of Dr Prabhakar’s house, and all the legal and political jargon, could have been easily lopped off as it doesn’t add to the storey in any way. We get it that Mithilesh is after Dr Prabhakar’s blood and a couple of sharply edited scenes for the same would have sufficed. In one scene Dr Prabhakar’s says, "Main zero hoon, jaise aap ne kaha tha Mithilesh Singh. Zero bhi ek mahan Bhartiya ne ijaad kiya that aur ek zero hi ek zero ko maar sakta hai.” The mathematical equation he deciphered was catchy, if not brilliant.

My favourite performance is Saif Ali Khan’s as Deepak Kumar. He plays it just right. Deepika and Saif work well together. In fact, she actually acts when she is paired with him. Manoj does evil best, and he makes it look menacing in ‘Aarakshan’ too. Hema Malini seems to be doing many cameos in Amitabh starrers of late. Century Ply makes its debut in the film in a product placement in the tabela. Also, the number of people in the tabela outnumbered the cows and buffaloes at all times.

The script does justice to the reservation story idea as do the dialogues. The cinematography is unobtrusive and seamless. But the one aspect of the failing education system – the meagre salaries of the teachers should also have been tackled in the story somewhere given that is possibly one of the main reasons teachers and professors start teaching outside of college and university classrooms with private coaching classes to live a good life.

Tanvi Azmi as Poorbi’s mother mouthed one of the most ludicrous lines in the film, “Main Ma hoon, Bharat Ma nahin. Meri ek beti hai aur mera dharam hai usko dekhne ko,” to her husband Dr Prabhakar in one of the scenes when they are facing hard times.

In the current climate of 'Be the change you want to see in this world', Aarakshan scores. Being an Independence Day weekend release, Aarakshan stands to gain at the box office. As Dr Prabhakar said in the film, “Why don’t we have an ITS (Indian Teaching Services) like the IAS and IFS where we train the best minds to teach the youth of our country?” It is a thought.

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Updated Date: Aug 12, 2011 19:49:12 IST