Actors: Amitabh BachchanSaif Ali KhanManoj BajpaiDeepika PadukonePrateik
Genre: Drama
Rating: 3.5/5

Bhool gaye ki jab mauka mila tha to hum jaise ne is desh ka samvidhaan likh dala”, said Deepak referring to Dr. B R Ambedkar, Principal Architect of the Constitution of India. Talk about B R Ambedkar and there be no reference
 to reservation system in India? Nahi ho sakta. Aarakshan in Hindi means just that. The story by Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali starts off on this hot topic, but the meat really is commercialization of education in India. The plot set in 2008, talks about the changes that are brought about in a Professor’s life on challenging his peer on their sin of ‘selling education’ outside of the institution they teach at. Jobs lost, media fed and egos hurt, rest of the story is about the victory of ideals (like equality, free knowledge) over flaky and the incongruous.
Amitabh Bachchan as Prof Prabhakar Anand is sometimes remindful of Narayan Shankar of Mohabbatein.  His authoritative baritone, articulate enunciation, command over Hindi, and gait of a strict administrator at the helm of affairs of an educational organization is picture perfect. The patient teacher in action (teaching) strengthen Bachchan’s impression on the viewer as the perfect choice for the role. The character’s histrionics are minimal, but his personality is heightened in every scene through others’ performances and other cinematic elements that share screen-time with him. Saif Ali Khan as junior lecturer Deepak Kumar, Prof. Anand’s protégé and more relevantly a Dalit individual, has undertaken a new challenge as an individual belonging to the lower middle class. Saif as Deepak is not a romantic, and has fire in his belly for the cause of education and more importantly for upliftment of the downtrodden. Clearly, Saif has underplayed his charm and what comes to the fore is an able individual who likes to be in the shadow of his master to give preference to greater good over personal empowerment. 

A scaled down version of Mr. Potter, empowered by prejudice against Prof. Anand, Manoj Bajpai as Mithilesh Singh does enough for the viewer to loathe him by the end of the film. As a self-controlled personality with political influence, how Mithilesh uses his guile to satiate his greed for money and power is core to this role. If anything, what’s not forgettable about Manoj’s act are his facial expressions and his Hindi diction (and the local dialect), second only to Bachchan’s. Deepika Padukone as Poorbi is central to many relationships – a college student and friend, a lover, a daughter, etc but her position does little to move the story forward. Deepika’s abilities have been circumvented by the plot’s focus on Prof. Anand and  Mithilesh Singh. Prateik as Sushant, a wealthy student has very average screen presence. In terms of impact, Munna of Dhobi Ghat totally pwns Sushant.

The direction of a film depends on a lot of things – the title, to begin with. Director Prakash Jha could have set better expectations for the viewer by not calling the film ‘Aarakshan’, which it is evidently not about. Coming straight to Prakash’s real craft, the film aims at some unreal solutions to some of India’s real problems owing to commercialization of education system. Clearly establishing goals to be achieved by Prof Anand by end of the movie – to reclaim their property usurped by Mithilesh’s ‘tutorial empire’ and his position in the society, there is enough material justifying evolution of Prof Anand’s character, and the time is also used to bring out the vile Mithilesh Singh in parallel. The performances, the storyline, the visuals, the audio, the screen time have blended correctly to keep the viewer engaged. What’s not convincing is the turn of events in the climax, which doesn’t draw specific boundaries. Barring the tactical goals that are achieved, the ending really does not highlight if college (STM) benefited, or if the society did (outside of STM). Fate of KK tutorials belonging to Mithilesh Singh is not clear either. The film had potential to take off in many tangents given the strong character impressions right at the beginning, but Prakash has ensured the film focuses on events that arise from a showdown of the saintly and the culpable. Screenplay  by Jha and Rajabali does not spawn many offshoots to the storyline. The story has right cast-size, with one event leading into another. It is evident that concerted effort had been put keep the goal in sight always. In light of the larger problem (haves vs have nots), the entire issue of reservation could have been done away with, and so the initial few scenes that focus on the OBC reservation increase to 27% etc don’t help the story at all. 

Cinematography by Sachin Krishn is remindful of his other work with the same team, in Rajeenti, but comparatively of lower caliber this time. Shot in Madhya Pradesh, the tabelas, the green fields, the attires, have been majorly used to bring about the Bhopal in the story, while, it is a bigger city than what has been showcased. Deepak Kumar’s basti was clearly a film set and the make-believe gapes at the viewer. Although, what Sachin has managed to do well is capture emotions and gestures of the two main characters, Prof Anand and Mithilesh Singh, that add to the excitement of what’s next. 

Like most Prakash Jha films, the album music is meant to be enjoyed outside of the theater, but I am not sure I will. Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is average with Accha Lagta Hai being the big number. If album music was not propelling the story, background music by Wayne Sharpe was. To an extent. Too western for a film with rustic appeal, there ar sonatas with violins and piano when Prof. Anand is walking dejected in the rain. Too heavy for the scene and given its extrinsic nature, the composition takes away the feel of the scene. Background music changes our perception and how! Although certain other portions like crowds amassing to support the protagonists have been complemented well by the background sound. 

Why 3.5/5:
The good: Performances by Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai. The storyline and screenplay. No distractions like full songs or item numbers. The message conveyed in a cryptic way albeit, that education has to be available to everyone without discrimination. The not-so-good: The title. Unwanted storyline on caste reservation. Average production values leading to average cinematography. Average background music. Average performance by Prateik. A climax that potentially discredits a 2 hour plot development. 

Aarakshan is an interesting take on lives of a few strong characters. Wantedly orunwantedly, it seeks to preach and does leave the viewer thinking about some relevant issues that do need to be addressed in India.


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  • "What is this..movie reviews and all? Chaa!! Do you ever think outside films?" - if this is exactly what you are itching to ask, may I interest you in my other blog Sandeepish?
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