Barring the past two weeks with the released low-budget films not making a memorable impact on the box office, Bollywood has been going through a great phase. From Delhi Belly and Murder 2 to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Singham, blockbusters have been pouring into the industry. Naturally, expectations are high from the next two biggies of the month, one of them being Prakash Jha's star-studded directorial venture Aarakshan. Also, there is no doubt that Prakash Jha is one of the most talented and respected directors of our time. But especially after the blockbuster Raajneeti which was also claimed to be one of the best films of 2010, expectations are bound to be high from his next. And lastly, when you have names like Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Manoj Bajpayee packed in one film, who wouldn't be expecting another blockbuster? Sadly, that's not what you get. Aarakshan doesn't meet the expectations, it disappoints!
Aarakshan is the story of Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh Bachchan), the legendary idealistic principal of a college that he has single-handedly turned into the state's best. It is the story of his loyal disciple, Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan) who will do anything for his Sir, of Deepak's love for Prabhakar's daughter Poorbi (Deepika Padukone), of his friendship with Sushant (Prateik Babbar). It is the story of their love, their lively friendship, their zest for life, and of their dreams for the future. Centered on one of the most controversial issues of recent years, with the Supreme Court's order on reservations, the story suddenly becomes a rollercoaster ride of high drama, conflict, and rebellion, which tests their love and friendship for one another, and their loyalty to Prabhakar Anand.
The movie is indeed based on a very interesting topic which everyone can easily relate to. However, not always do interesting concepts translate into interesting scripts. That's the case with Aarakshan. The film starts off on an unrealistic note with a few job interviewers evidently humiliating Saif Ali Khan about his background, also talking ill about his parents' occupation. From a realistic view, who does that in a job interview? Human resource managers could be reported and sacked for making any evident caste/social class bias comments. Anyways, then after a few introductory sequences to the characters, Saif-Deepika's romance and two songs – one of them being an unnecessary boring typical Bollywood song 'Mauka' – the movie actually starts getting interesting. Following a Prakash Jha style, the movie is filled in with some great dramatic and gripping moments. Look out for the scenes between the powerhouse performers Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan and Manoj Bajpayee; absolutely terrific! In spite of the uninteresting start, the movie keeps you gripped enough to make you want to know what's going to happen next. The film deals with its main plot i.e. caste-based reservations in a top-notch manner addressing the issues, concerns and opinions attached to it. But the second half is where the film goes down again, and doesn't come back. The reason being that it's no longer about the main issue 'aarakshan'; it's just about Amitabh Bachchan!
The second half keeps getting dull scene by scene. It's filled with flaws. Firstly, the focus is no longer about the reservation issue, it's about Prabhakar Anand's principles and troubles. Everything seems extremely stretched and exaggerated. Also, a strong point for a film of such nature should usually be its realism, and that's what it lacks. Prabhakar Anand actually starts his classes in the cow-shed. So, as you can expect, the results he gets will be the best in the whole class. He teaches a girl who used to get 57%, and guess what happens after Prabhakar Anand teaches her... you got it right, she tops the class! He then actually overtakes a well-established private coaching class in no time and brings back his reputation. Then, nearing the end, Deepika Padukone actually speaks to some men working under a particular politician to support her, and they all in exact '5 seconds' forget all their loyalty and go against the politician running to help Deepika, Amitabh, Saif et al. And there are many more scenes like that. Also, why does Manoj Bajpai suddenly out of nowhere start acting mental towards the end? He was completely fine one scene before. The transition isn't shown well. And lastly, what's that? Saif Ali Khan is contacting Deepika Padukone from America for the first time, and the number flashing on Deepika's phone is a Mumbai number saved with his name. Is that how careless one can be about film-making?!
This is definitely not one of director Prakash Jha's best works. Like usual Prakash Jha films, the dialogues of the film by Anjum Rajabali are top-notch. Except the first song 'Achche lagte ho', the songs by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are extremely boring. In fact, most of them seem unnecessarily added in the film for the heck of it which makes it even more irritable. It doesn't flow with the screenplay. The editing by Santosh Mandal is average. One of the scenes in the first half comes from absolutely nowhere. Same goes for the screenplay. In fact, the nearly 165 minutes long film could have been easily cut down by 20 minutes which would have definitely worked in favor of the film. It's too long and stretched! However, the cinematography by Sachin Kumar Krishanan is excellent.
Amitabh Bachchan is fantastic. Some might argue that he's playing the role of 'a man with principles' all over again similar to his earlier films, but then the same don't appreciate him experimenting in films like Buddha Hoga Tera Baap or Nishabd either right? Neither do I! Hence, I would say it's nice to see him do roles matching his supreme talent which he has justified with a fantastic performance. In spite of proving his talent time and again, Saif Ali Khan yet remains underrated. And the film simply doesn't justify his brilliance. Just like Ajay Devgn in Raajneeti, Saif Ali Khan disappears from the film and has no scope in the second half of the film. He's hardly there! Regardless, he gives in a sincere, power-packed and impactful performance even during his minimal screen-time. Look out for the scene where Saif Ali Khan and Prateik Babbar fight over the reservation policy, if the scene stands out, it's only because of his top-notch performance. Manoj Bajpayee is terrific. In fact, he's the best part about the film. Playing another negative character post Raajneeti, Manoj Bajpayee has proved that he is equally competent to even performers like Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan. Definitely, a nomination-worthy performance! Deepika Padukone looks simple, but beautiful. She's improving with every film which can be seen. Though, her character doesn't get much to contribute to the film. Her character could have brought a very interesting touch to the storyline, but sadly, the character and the contribution of it isn't formed well. Prateik Babbar has a long way to go. A few sequences have not worked only because of his mediocre performance. Agreed he's still only a few films old, but with today's competition among the newcomers, one can't afford to give such an average act. In fact in some scenes he even provides a few laughs, which aren't really supposed to be funny. Get some acting lessons Prateik before it's too late! Among the rest of the supporting cast, it's Tanvi Azmi who stands out. She's excellent as always. Hema Malini's entry in the end was expected.
Overall, the film is based upon a very interesting concept. Without concentrating on its dull beginning, the first half is extremely powerful and gripping making it a great watch till then. However, the film looses track and moves away from the issue after which it never regains the interest back. The concept could have been utilized to the most and be made it into an extremely powerful and hard-hitting film. But unfortunately, in spite of having a few brilliant performances and a renowned director, it's all gone waste!
Rating – **(2 stars)
Author – Rishitu Amarnani