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AarakshanCast: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Prateik Babbar, Manoj Bajpai

Director: Prakash Jha

Rating: ** 1/2

Choose an explosive title for your movie, hire a clever PR agent and then pick up some controversies along the way.

At a time, when politicians and the rest of our moral brigade are just waiting for the slightest opportunity to shout themselves hoarse if they find something or someone ‘offending’ their sensibilities, there couldn’t have been a better way of getting a movie wanted as well as unwanted attention.

When Jha made films like Mrityudand and Gangajal, you could sense a genuine intention behind them. With Aarakshan, I am not so sure.

Do I even need to mention that Aarakshan deals with, or is supposed to deal with, reservation for Dalits and other ‘pichchde jaati ke log’? Everyone in India (even those who aren’t Bollywood buffs) knows by now what all the noise has been about.

But here comes the twist ”while you go in expecting an explosive movie on the issue of caste-based reservation, you end up listening to a lambi bhashan on the commercialisation of education!

Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan) doesn’t use his second name, so you have to assume he belongs to the Dalit community, and Dr. Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh Bachchan) dotes on him and his brilliance. Anand is the principal of the college and is a strict disciplinarian with rigid rules against corruption.

Some of the trustees aren’t too happy with the stubborn principal. Anand, saviour of the downtrodden, gets into trouble when some people take advantage of his generosity.

Anand’s daughter Purbi (Deepika Padukone) is in love with Deepak, but breaks all ties with him when he has an argument with her dad. Sushant (Prateik Babbar) is Purbi’s college mate and he wants to fight against reservation in education.

This film, which deals with education more than reservation, holds your interest in the first half, but meanders aimlessly in the second half. Some of the scenes, especially the climax, are unwittingly hilarious.

But I must make a mention of a few rare scenes and dialogues that are likeable. Like the scene between Anand and his wife (Tanvi Azmi), when she presents her layman view on reservation.

As for the performances, Amitabh Bachchan is more than excellent. His transition from a person in authority to a helpless teacher shines above everything and anyone.

One can’t really imagine anyone else doing that role as well as Mr Bachchan. Saif has made a sincere attempt and is more or less convincing, but his character is sketchy.

Deepika is pretty good, but I wish she didn’t deliver dialogues like she has just mugged them up in her dad’s classroom. Prateik is a huge disappointment. This guy needs better direction. Manoj Bajpai’s mediocre performance as a greedy and power- hungry teacher comes as a surprise.

Given how extensively the film talks about the commercialisation of education, I think someone should take up the cause of commercialisation of inflammatory issues.

While Jha has succeeded in garnering enough attention for Aarakshan as a result, he has failed to give this sensitive issue its due. That, in my opinion, is not a good thing either.

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