Friday, August 12, 2011

#177: Aarakshan

In the mid-80s there used to be a genre of Hindi cinema that had a storyline with the breadwinner of a family as the protagonist. The hero would be a gentle soul who has got a loving family and who falls on troubled times because of an antagonist who would be plotting his downfall due to a difference in opinion about property/family business. It would be a very linear story with a happy beginning and a tumultuous middle act that would see the hero struggling with not just finances to meet ends but perhaps also contracting a heart disease or his wife would suddenly pass away due to an affliction. The ending would then bring all those ends together more often than not in a happy resolution. Swarg and Ghar Ek Mandir are examples that come to mind. This weekend's multi-starrer Aarakshan is one such nostalgic throwback to those days.

Amitabh Bachchan is Prabhakar Anand, a righteous principal of an esteemed college institution who selflessly believes in the right to equality of education. His protege whom he appoints as junior lecturer in his college is Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan), a meritorious student who with Prabhakar Anand's help over the years has moulded himself into a strong and able individual. The catch is that he hails from a backward caste and a few doubting eyes around the campus see it as a clear bias towards weaker castes. In a statement to a newspaper around SC's judgement about reservations, when Anand hints at personally seeing nothing wrong with reservations, his bete noire Mithilesh Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) sees it as an opportunity to get Anand banished from the college. And thus begins Prabhakar Anand's travails that see him tested every ten minutes from thereon. Oddly, the movie promos seemed to suggest this is a movie led by Saif Ali Khan but clearly this is an Amitabh Bachchan show. He displays once again why he used to be such a master at his craft and why he can still get your tear glands going with his monologues and sheer on-screen presence.

Manoj Bajpayee has a certain malleability to his skills that allows to be cast in a rare negative role and does well in his avataar of a money-hungry professor. Prateik Babbar as the voice of the students who prefer merit as the sole of criteria for admission holds his own in this heavy duty and the same can be said of Deepika Padukone- Amitabh's daughter in the movie who is torn between the differences of opinion between those who are close to her. The screenplay by Anjum Rajabali and Prakash Jha have quite a few loopholes but what the story (by Kamlesh Pandey) singularly succeeds in achieving is making this a battle between the good guy and the bad guy and making that battle reasonably engaging. A stand-off scene between Prateik Babbar and Saif Ali Khan is one among quite a few sequences that will impress you in the movie.

What Aarakshan lacks in depth is made up by some strong performances by it's cast. Character actors such as Yashpal Sharma, Darshan Zariwala, Saurabh Shukla and the emerging Amitosh Nagpal do justice to their parts and lend a more realistic feel than Jha's last multi-starrer Rajneeti. Whether the story that uses our flawed teaching institutes to establish a point around the volatile subject of reservations can have a social impact that some of Aamir's movies have done in the recent past is doubtful but what is barely in doubt is Aarakshan's value for money and time this weekend at the box office.

Rating: 6.6/10
P.S.: Political parties / social activist organizations etc etc. please watch this movie and stop the nonsensical bans for the movie. There's not a word in the movie that should get your goat going.

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