Q.E.D. – ‘quod erat demonstrandum’ is a term used by scholars in demonstrating a mathematical proof. However, the protagonist in this film; who is an eminent professor of Mathematics, explains it as - ‘Quite Easily Done’ - in order to generate some laughter from among his students. Unfortunately, the term also sums up the film as a whole….it’s quite easily done!
First things first, ‘Aarakshan’ is not really about aarakshan, i.e. (caste based) reservations in India. Rather it hardly qualifies as a sub plot in the story. Just like our Bihari brethren eats a fingertip of pickle with four handfulls of rice and chokha, Mr. Prakash Jha uses the contentious issue of reservations as a point de depart in the script, to take some major leaps of faith, sensibilities….and logic.
The story revolves around an idealistic Principal, Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh Bachchan) who has strictly abided by the virtues and principles of the teaching profession all his life. He ably runs one of the best colleges in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh and in the free time, takes mathematics classes for underprivileged students in the backyard of his house. He is helped by his wife (Tanvi Azmi), daughter Purbi (Deepika Padukone) and a postgraduate student Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan). Deepak is basically a scheduled caste student who is pursuing higher studies with the help of his mentor Prabhakar Anand. He and Purbi are in love with each other and are enjoying their time in college along with friends like upper caste rich kid Sushant Seth (Prateik Babbar).
The time period of the film is just before the famous Supreme Court decision which upheld the constitutional legality of 27% reservations for the OBCs in institutions of higher learning. As the judgement regarding the reservations comes out the atmosphere in the college becomes extremely tense with clashes between the beneficiaries and non beneficiaries. At the same time, Prabhakar takes on the corporate-politician nexus in the educational system and makes enemy out of a state minister (Saurabh Shukla) by denying his nephew a seat in his college. The minister, in return, decides to take revenge by conniving with a College Board member (Rajeev Verma) and the castiest vice Principal of the college Mithilesh Singh (Manoj Bajpai) in ousting Prabhakar from the Principal’s post. Following the turmoil after the reservations judgement and an inexplicably linked sneer campaign in the media, the troika even succeeds in doing so. Eventually, Mithilesh becomes the new Principal and slowly expands his empire of commercial coaching classes by ignoring his duties towards the college. What follows after this, is the fight between a virtuous Prabhakar; who is vehemently against the commercialisation of education and Mithilesh Singh plus his corporate education complex, which is hell bent on making teaching a profit making business.
If you haven’t guessed it already, Aarakshan’s content matter has more to do with the profit driven education of the post reforms era rather than caste based reservations and it does not comment, in any significant way, on the benefits and pitfalls of the same. Rather, the title of the film is just a façade, which Jha uses quite liberally, to take the story forward (unconvincingly at that). There is also a bizarre correlation between the under utilisation of reservation benefits and the mushrooming of commercial coaching classes, sans an iota of explanation about the rationale. Much like ‘3 Idiots’; which preached simplistic American psychological self-help nothings while claiming to make a profound critique of rote learning, ‘Aarakshan’ throws at your face many simplistic remedies to the commercialisation of education. In fact the film itself indulges in commercialisation of filmmaking with a couple of laughable advertising gimmicks. During one scene, a contingent of media awaits Prabhakar outside his house for a comment while the Editor of Dainik Bhaskar (the media partners of Aarakshan) sits inside the house for a personal interview. Another scene has characters eulogising a famous plywood company for their CSR penance.
I feel pity for those political parties and caste groups who are threatening to create a ruckus because of the so called ‘anti-reservation’ stand taken by ‘Aarakshan’. The film, in fact, takes a slightly positive view of caste based reservations but screws it up with its filmi supplementaries.
Moving away from the conceptualisation, the film as a cinematic experience also feels cosmetic, much like Jha’s previous flick ‘Raajneeti’. Amitabh, as usual, puts life into his character of an idealistic and virtuous teacher with the only drawback being his unchanged style of dialogue delivery. Those who have seen him over the years, overemphasising on words and spitting drops on the lens will know what I am alluding to. Saif, Deepika and Prateik disappoint on their own distinct levels. Saif, who has evolved enormously as an actor in the last decade, does a very unconvincing job playing a class conscious Dalit. The pronunciations, mannerisms and style of walking show no significant change, reminding you of the same urbane, sophisticated actor we have seen so many times in other movies. Deepika tries her best to look like a simple Bhopali girl and fails miserably in doing so. The permed, highlighted hair, Fab India clothing and the convent chaap dialogue delivery haven’t helped matters. Prateik is surprisingly bad. While it is no secret that he is still to evolve as an actor, the lack of expressions and shouting through dialogues becomes especially pronounced vis-à-vis actors like Saif and Bachchan.
The one who truly impresses is Manoj Bajpai with his delightfully understated performance as the cunning and ruthless Mithilesh Singh. Manoj makes a strong impression, fortunately sans any Bhiku Mhatre hangover which has haunted the actor intermittently in his acting career.
As regards the music, except the starting credits instrumental there is nothing to talk about. Screenplay and direction are two branches which are the main week points of this self proclaimed ‘socio-political drama’. The characters and situations are surprisingly underdeveloped and half baked, a far cry from some of Anjum Rajabali’s or Prakash Jha’s previous work. There also seems to be a serious conceptual conundrum in their minds about the difference between the Scheduled Castes and OBCs.
All said and done, it’s ultimately upon the audience to decide whether ‘Aarakshan’ satisfies or disappoints. We at FilmiTadka give Aarakshan two and half stars out of 5.