One of the most awaited movies this year, Prakash Jha's Aarakshan has already had its fair share of controversies, before its release. Briefly banned in certain states, although nobody is really sure why, this 3-hour-long film is promoted as a social movie, because it deals with a social issue - reservation. However, it never really delves deep into the issue it ostensibly handles.
The movie begins well, though. Who in India has not heard of or either gained or lost because of the reservations for various castes and communities? Our country is still in its nascent stage of development and progress - consciously or unconsciously, every Indian is a little caste/community-conscious.
Playing the voice of reason is a Principal of a renowned private institute, STM - Dr. Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh Bachchan, who else?). He believes in encouraging hard work and talent, and his students are the best in the region. The caste and the religion of his prodigies make no difference to him, and he is a man of principle and ethics.
STM's star student Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan), who also becomes a junior lecturer in the same college, is in love with the Principal's daughter, Poorbi (Deepika Padukone). Life is perfect for everybody, till the Supreme Court passes a law, reserving 27% of jobs for scheduled castes and tribes, OBCs, and other minorities.
This law leads to an unexpected conflict between Sushant (Prateik), a student and Poorbi's best friend, and Deepak - who belong to different castes. In the meantime, Mithilesh Singh (Manoj Bajpai), the soon-to-be Vice Principal, not only encourages the quarrel, but also gets into his own fracas with Prabhakar.
This is where the film deviates into another story - the personal journey of a principled man fighting the corruption rampant in the educational system of this country. Suddenly, the movie is no longer about reservations and quotas, but about Prabhakar vs. Mithilesh and the people choosing sides.
You then begin to wonder why the movie is named Aarakshan, and if it should have been titled 'Shiksha', or something along those lines, instead.
Towards the end of the film, all the scenes become emotionally charged, and everybody weeps copious tears, but the movie makes a point - 2, actually: (i) reservation for deprived classes is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be misused; and (ii) education is the basic right of every individual, and should not become a commercial venture.
Make no mistake - this movie is all about the Big B, who can do no wrong on the big screen. Despite abrupt changes in characterisation, AB delivers, and how.
His scenes without dialogues, where his eyes do all the talking, are the best. Watch out for the scene where he plays the indulgent father laying out the dinner table for his daughter, with whom he has just had a fight.
That is also the scene in which Deepika Padukone delivers her best performance yet. She is an important character, and manages to pull off her lines well.
The only person who can be considered almost as good as the Big B is Saif Ali Khan. Although he goes missing in the middle of the movie, he more than makes up for his limited screen time by portraying effectively an educated Dalit.
Prateik needs to learn the art of being comfortable in front of the camera. His is a substantial role, too. Darshan Jariwala and Yashpal Sharma are likeable characters, and convincing. Chetan Pandit and Mukesh Tiwari could have done with some more screen time. Tanvi Azmi makes her mark, as does Saurabh Shukla.
However, it is Manoj Bajpai who steals the show - well, almost. His act as a sleazy, greedy man who wants to take advantage of the education system is well-written.
Production design is a bit of a disappointment, especially the interiors of the college. The music is somewhat catchy, and songs pop up at regular intervals.
Despite the way it does not live up to its hype, its lack of a real analysis of the reservations issue, and its disjointed script, Aarakshan merits a watch - and this is mostly thanks to Bachchan.