Friday, August 12, 2011


Educating India

Prakash Jha has, in his last few films, picked contentious issues that have been plaguing his home state, and sometimes other parts of the country.  In Aarakshan, he purportedly picks the reservation issue, and has created enough ruckus to rule the media wave, and have the cops out in full force.  (There were at least half a dozen uniformed policemen at a small suburban moviehall.)

Having admired Jha’s films like Mrityudand, Gangaajal, Apaharan  (not Rajneeti) for their originality and courage,  there was a great deal of curiosity to see how he walked the tightrope on the sensitive political issue of caste based reservations in education (he doesn’t go beyond that), but the film turns out to be a big disappointment. It would take great courage to actually take a stand on the reservation issue—whether the director is for or against, there will be some faction out with swords drawn.

If the people who are banning the film and baying for the filmmaker’s blood were to see it, they would (or ought to be) embarrassed by their vehemence, which the film does not deserve. After a bit of a fiery stand off between a Dalit teacher Deepak (Saif Ali Khan—good performance), an upper caste student Sushant (Prateik) and slimy vice principal Mithilesh (Manoj Bajpai), in which there is some strong ‘them vs. us’ rhetoric, Jha deftly sidesteps the issue and goes after the business of education that is capitation and coaching.

The upright principal of a college, Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh Bachchan—in his element) is seemingly for reservation, though he is actually in favour of education and equal opportunities for all.  (Hema Malini’s portraits are very prominently displayed on the walls, and when she does turn up, it’s a laugh.) As noble a stand as any, but his corrupt deputy Mithilesh,who makes a fortune out of coaching classes, has him ousted, encroaches intohis house and generally gives him a tough time. The story then becomes a Prabhakar vs. Mithilesh clash of personalities, instead of any serious commenton the education system (nobody can say it’s perfect) or the caste battle which is far deeper and wider than the limited scope of the film.

Jha’s solutions are as simplistic as his protagonist’s problems.  Prabhakar takes shelter in a tabela with his wife Kavita (Tanvi Azmi) and daughter Purvi (Deepika Padukone) and starts free coaching for poor students, whose success starts cutting into Mithilesh’s coaching class empire.  Deepak, Sushant, Purvi and others join him too;  which is hardly a solution to caste, poverty, reservation or education.  Paying a poor Brahmin boy’s fee, as Prabhakar does, is no solution either to the frustration of the upper class students denied admission on merit. There is just one idea that Jha puts forth which deserves implementation, the setting up of an Indian Teachers’ Service, to give the teaching community the respect accorded to IPS and IFS.

Except for a few well-written ‘speeches’ the film lacks any real drama or even a stable core that can convey with any degree of conviction what exactly the director wants to say.  It fires in all directions likea malfunctioning gun and never hits the target.

The cops can go back to catching criminals, the politicians can go back to governing; a film like this, or any film for that matter, should not get everyone into a funk. If they have nothing better to do, maybe they can start teaching poor kids?


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