Prakash Jha has matured as a director over these years and his last film, “Rajneeti” proved it at the box office. Credit should go to him for stirring up a real ensemble of seasoned actors in “Rajneeti” like Nana Patekar, Naseeruddin Shah and Manoj Bajpai and being able to make actors like Ajay Devgan, Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor and Arjun Rampal perform better in their respective roles, while pitted against the former. In “Aarakshan” too, he has assembled another formidable star cast of Amitabh Bachchan, Manoj Bajpai, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Saurabh Shukla, among others.
Before its release, “Aarakshan” enjoyed a fair bit of publicity what with its ban in some States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but one has to see the film to understand why it could have hurt the sentiments of some sections of society. In the first half, the film focuses on the issue of reservation for a section of society whereas in the second half, the focus shifts towards the issue of private coaching rampant all over the country for students trying to get admissions in Engineering or Medical Institutes after passing school and even during college. Amitabh Bachchan essays the role of a college Principal, Prabhakar Anand, who is an epitome of die-hard principles and heads the prestigious STM or the Shankuntala Thakral Mahavidyalaya in Bhopal. There is a cut-off percentage every year for admissions to this college and Amitabh personally monitors the admissions. As an upright Principal, he does not succumb to external pressures, including political. He believes that reservations should be made on the basis of the economic background of any candidate and provides special classes to coach such students and is totally against private coaching Institutes. These students are given free guidance by the staff of the college and the staff is strictly prohibited to take private tuitions outside the college. Saif Ali Khan is one such student who belongs to the deprived section of society but is extremely intelligent and hard working. He is patronized by Amitabh who helps him in getting admission in Cornell University in America. Deepika Padukone, who plays Amitabh’s daughter, is in love with Saif although she belongs to the upper class but has her head on her shoulders and follows the values and traditions of her father. Things are going smoothly when suddenly, the State’s education minister Babu Ram, played by Saurabh Shukla, wants to get his nephew admitted in STM in spite of low marks. Although Amitabh declines the request of the Minister, Shukla coerces the other members of the STM Committee to agree. Incensed at Amitabh’s attitude, Shukla plants one of his confidante Mithilesh Singh, played by Manoj Bajpai, as the new Vice-Principal of the college. The game plan is to oust Amitabh from the post of Principal and appoint Bajpai in his place. Amitabh is too naïve and sincere to realize their plans and does not take heed. Bajpai has several coaching centers all over the city and mints money from the students, much against the wishes of Amitabh but with the patronage of the Minister. Silently, Bajpai conspires against Amitabh and is successful in pitting the deprived section of students against the general category of students, vitiating the once amicable and serene college atmosphere.
Soon, Amitabh is forced to leave the college and Saif also goes to America, leaving a lovelorn Deepika behind. Amitabh resolves to fight back and begins his own coaching classes in the stables of Shambhu, a milkman, played by Yashpal Sharma. How he is able to finish the likes of Bajpai and the Minister with the help of Saif, Shambhu and others, forms the rest of the film.
The best part of the film is its story by Kamlesh Pandey who has woven a theme centering around the theory of divide and rule in the film to show that the politicians and businessmen are now playing that dirty game in today’s India, which the British played much before. The division is now being carried out on the basis of reservations for backward classes and people like Bajpai and the Minister are stirring up the sentiments of the general category against the other category. The screenplay by Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali is watertight and the editing by Santosh Mandal is brisk. The background score by Wayne Sharpe is excellent and embellishes the sentimental scenes. The playback music is by the trio of Shankar-Ehsan-Loy, who has done well in one or two songs. Prakash Jha has written some soulful dialogues keeping in view that powerful actors like Amitabh and Bajpai would be speaking them. In fact, there is one classic dialogue by Saif, himself a brilliant student, when he tells the members of the college Committee that one of his own community wrote the Constitution of this great country when he was given the chance and the Committee should realize that before turning down Saif’s application for admission. Prakash Jha has deftly brought out the undercurrent of the sentiments and emotions of India’s youth today. He has delved upon the issue of caste-based reservations which tantamount to almost 50 percent nowadays. The second burning issue is the mad rush for private coaching which has now assumed alarming proportions. As a result of reservations, the general category has to walk the extra mile for getting selected, leading to the mushrooming of coaching centers all over the country. Teachers have stopped teaching in schools and colleges and charge heavy fee for the same teaching in coaching centers. Education has suddenly become a business enterprise. If not checked soon, this kind of coaching shall ruin our country’s entire education system. All in all, the film is hard-hitting and grips the viewer with its taut revelations. The ending is unpredictable but seems tame after a hyped climax.
As regards the actors, the role is tailor-made for Amitabh who carries it with his usual aplomb. After watching his inane “Buddha Hoga Tera Baap” a few days ago, the viewers had felt disillusioned, but this role shall keep their hopes alive. Saif underplays his character and does not have much to do except grimace most of the times. Deepika’s role is actually redundant and a talented actress has been wasted. The other actors who make their presence felt are Manoj Bajpai, Saurabh Shukla and Yashpal Sharma. Hema Malini does a cameo which is unexpected and may pleasantly surprise the viewers. Tanvi Azmi as Amitabh’s wife flits in and out of some domestic scenes. Prateik Babbar as a friend of Saif and Deepika, appears wooden. He should watch some more films of his parents to improve as an actor. Mukesh Tewari as the police inspector disappoints.
“Aarakshan” is a sensitive film without the current frills of “Munni badnaam hui” and “Sheela ki jawaani”. It brings a pleasant respite from the run-of-the-mill inane films being made today. It is a ‘must watch’ for the discerning viewer who can play his bit as a responsible citizen to resolve the issue of reservation plaguing our country today.