Aarakshan (2011) *MQ*

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Recently, a Kolkata-based newspaper got two filmmakers who had worked with Amitabh Bachchan, to speak about what they preferred more — Bachchan the actor, or Bachchan the star. Aarakshan is proof that there’s no need to choose. In the film, Amitabh Bachchan puts his best ‘feet’ forward, and makes a spectacle of his role.

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Siaf Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone

As Prabhakar Anand, Bachchan is the soul of Aarakshan. Principal Anand runs a private educational institute with an iron fist; “anushasan” is the key word here. If this reminds you of Bachchan from Mohabbatein, let me tell you it’s a similar character but without the arrogance. In fact, Prabhakar Anand may come across as a pushover a lot of times, but Bachchan lends the role a sense of dignity and charisma that compels you to take him seriously. This is Bachchan how we like him — as the crusader who will fight back no matter how badly the odds are stacked against him. And he will win.

But while Bachchan is a strong reason to watch Aarakshan, pretty much everything else around him falls apart. To begin with, the film is long. And verbose. And long. Dialogue after dialogue is thrown at you, characters conversing about the same things they discussed in a scene earlier, till they talk about it again in another scene. In the first half, in fact, there are a number of places where you expect the film to break for an interval, only to realise there are some more scenes left. It’s like watching two films: one before the interval and one after, and both seem long.

The length of a film is not what we are talking about here. It’s how long it actually feels. Aarakshan feels like an eternity. Co-writers Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali enforce every idea, every thought that the story toils to communicate over and over again. Worse still, they seem to forget and move on to a new one soon after. After spending a little over an hour to establish the evils and goods related to reservation (aarakshan) in educational institutions, the focus is then shifted to the evils of private coaching classes. Since education as a whole is the talking point here (or is it?), why not call the film ‘Shiksha’ instead.

You would think the film would at least take some sort of a stance on the issue of reservation, but even there Jha chooses to sit on the fence. “Iss desh main do Bharat baste hain.” Smart dialogue, but what’s the point? “Zara point pe aao na,” goes a song in Aarakshan. It’s the most effective of the million or so things said in the film.

Jha seems to be at a confused juncture as a filmmaker. His intentions seem noble; he continues to take up socio-political issues in the mainstream more often than most filmmakers, but he seems to want to please everyone now. He achieved tremendous commercial success with Raajneeti, and Jha doesn’t seem to want to let go of that — a clear case of not practising what you preach.

Video Source: PDVD
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Chapters: 3

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