Prakash Jha‘s films are always awesome. His last film RAAJNEETI was great, barring some issues. However, it seems he’s fallen into this rut of making great movies, with huge problems. AARAKSHAN was such a movie, where the content, story, performances, drama were top notch… but then it loses you somewhere in the way.
The Premise: The story shows us the lives of teachers in the education industry of India. We see a prestigious University and how they all react to a new government bill. India consists of people of various religions, cultural minorities, and even castes within the same religion. So the government passes a bill that allows certain percentage of seats in employment and education to be ‘Reserved’ (translation of the title) for the minorities, be it religious, caste, etc. Similar to the Affirmative Action policy in the USA.
What follows are how all these characters react, and how their lives and turned upside down due to this controversial decision. Saif Ali Khan plays such a minority character, who’s success in life is due to the guidance and hand of Amitabh Bachchan‘s character, Prabhakar. He’s all for this bill that gives oppurtunities to the less fortunate to succeed, similar to him.
Being the Principal of an esteemed college, Amitabh’s Prabhakar is a legendary educator who helps anyone and everyone despite any social standing, religion and all that BS. However, he comes directly under attack when he tries to remain neutral during this uproar of this new quota system.
AARAKSHAN shows how people who were friends, end up at each other’s throats when this new bill threatens to create differences between them, that may not have existed prior to it. Sure it deals with a general mentality to avoid discrimination, however it sidelines the honest and morally good people who never thought of those differences in the first place.
AARAKSHAN boasts of some pretty great actors, and they don’t disappoint.
An awesome character is Pratiek’s, who was last seen in DHOBI GHAT. He does an awesome job as a middle class majority Indian who gets denied entrance into college, because the seats were ‘reserved’ for the minority students. He ends up turning on his friends, Saif Ali and Deepika’s characters, due to his anger.
Prabhaker, Amitabh’s character gets ruined by Manoj Bajpai, who plays the evil villain guy here who sees education as a business, rather than the mind shaping future of the country concept that it truly is.
Here’s the problem, I just spent the majority of this review, describing what happens in the movie, and the concept, that needed backstory to explain. And I’m not even done. There’s MORE that happens in the story. At one point it’s 2 hours and the story hasn’t gone anywhere. I’m still waiting for the upswing in the good guy’s story arc where they vanquish the evil guy’s attempts to keep them down. But it comes eventually, ALL of it, in the last 10 minutes of the movie. Which is when everything wraps up SO nice and conveniently that it just made the journey of the past 2+ hours seems kind of pointless.
*deep breath* Basically, Amitabh’s character allowed a friend’s kids to live in their house, while his family lived in the university premises. However, after taking sides with the Reservation bill, he was fired from the University and had to move back home. However, Bajpai’s character coerced the kids living in his house, to rent him the property so he could run a private coaching center. Amitabh and family move into a stable across the street of a poor guy who respects him, and starts tutoring kids for free. Eventually he enlists the help of his daughter Deepika, Saif Ali and Pratiek’s characters. The ‘Stable School’ becomes super successful, gets media attention and is doing better than the rich and powerful villain’s coaching centers. The powers that be try to screw the good guys over more, by taking the stable away due to some legal hoopla. The come to destroy it while a Bazillion people stand by ready to defend it. Then a few phone calls happen, a powerful character shows up in the end, rights all wrongs and all is great in the world.
Prakash Jha could’ve easily wrapped up the story almost 40 minutes before it actually did. There could’ve even been a moral victory in the story when Amitabh decides to teach inner city kids for free. A slow zoom, some music flaring up in the background and it could end there. Symbolizing that the guy who spend 30 years building up an honest and ideal education system, doesn’t get broken by the corrupt system, but will do it all over again.
But no, we’re treated to like 40+ more minutes of obstacles, and dialogue that goes nowhere and romantic exchanges, and the characters all slowly making up and reuniting in their cause… all of which could’ve happened much earlier in the film. Just seems like bad bad pacing.
AARAKSHAN is a good movie, with powerful performances, great scenes… but loses its impact as it drags on beyond the cohesive story. The topic of ‘Reservation’ is also so technical and specific that it seems like it wouldn’t hold the attentions of a general audience.