Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Aarakshan: A balanced take on reservation
“Aarakshan” gives a hurried yet comprehensive walkthrough of the educational system and sub-systems that currently exist in India.
The story revolves around the principal of an educational institution Prabhakar Anand (played by Amitabh Bachchan) who lives by certain rules and is willing to give up his job rather than be pushed around to accept a bribe or a student who does not have the required marks to gain admission.
Resentment begins to simmer with close friends turning against each other because they belong to different castes and therefore feel differently about the Supreme Court’s verdict on an increase in quotas for underprivileged sections in jobs and educational institutions.
Mithilesh Singh, a casteist to the core and an astute, greedy teacher in the same institution catalyses the situation to his own benefit, and pursues a personal agenda against Anand after having replaced him as the principal. Manoj Bajpayee does complete justice to Mithilesh’s character.
Anand and his family go through increasing turmoil while students Deepak Kumar (played by Saif Ali Khan) and Sushant Seth (played by Prateik Babbar), play key roles in portraying opposing outlooks on the quota issue. Both Kumar and Seth lose faith in Anand, falling out with each other and with Anand’s daughter (played by Deepika Padukone) — their classmate and Deepak’s lady love.
Anand resolves to fight back without violence, armed with a handful of students in a cow shed. He is happy to teach for free but won’t take casteist as a label. Tanvi Azmi plays Anand’s loyal pillar-esque wife to whom he turns to when in doubt.
The movie has its quirks — it seems to zig-zag through many parts, with noticeable abrupt cuts, especially in the first half. There’s too much happening. Two songs near the beginning of the film seem out of sync and unnecessary. The movie borders innumerable times at being preachy, but manages to steer out soon enough.
The screenplay is woven well with a mix of sometimes heavy and near-heavy dialogues. Interesting use of levels to symbolise caste difference and later Anand’s fall from grace. A good mix of actors who render, thankfully, absolutely no over-the-top performances, except sometimes the heavy dialogues in Saif’s creamy voice do sound strange.
“Aarakshan” manages to use the basic plot to comment on key things such as political agendas that add fuel to the caste politics fire. Slightly heavy, but an interesting watch. It is ironic the movie is being banned in those states where the demand for quota is the highest, since the movie aptly — without taking sides — brings you the scenario created in a world with reservations.