Jha’s Aarakshan gets lost in translation, but there are important takeaways

I saw Aarakshan on the day of its release and the very next day read the film’s review in Times of India, DNA and Mumbai Mirror. Disclaimer: I am not a qualified film critic and my views get published nowhere except this blog and I do not get paid for this. The critics said that the film has a good first half but in the second half it loses track by falling into the usual trap of hero versus villain drama. All three critics panned the film blaming it to be highlighting too many issues simultaneously and getting meddled in unnecessary drama of ‘Tabela classes’ run by a virtuous and heroic Amitabh Bacchan versus a vicious Manoj Bajpayee’s ‘KK Coaching Classes’.

I fail to understand how the film critics of all three newspapers failed to interpret the symbolism used by the makers of Aarakshan. It is well documented that Prakash Jha is an issue-based filmmaker, from Damul to his most recent one, Jha has been known to raise issues. From days where he only made documenatries, Jha has championed his technique of presenting an issue in an entertaining manner.

The critics said that Aarakshan has a confused plot which baffles audiences. Though I believe the film could have been made better, I want to dwell upon the symbolism that the makers of the film seem to have employed to drive their point home.

In his earlier films, Jha has chronicled on screen his perception of issues. In movies like Mrityudand, Gangaajal and Raajneeti, Jha did not have to think too hard to bring the film to a logical conclusion. The protagonists in these films took precedence over the issue and brought the films to an end. Such was not the case with Aarakshan as he dealt with a very sensitive issue. To bring a movie of such nature to a logical end is not possible without the use of symbols as he had the task of making an entertaining film without hurting the sentiments of people who are either pro or against reservation.

Those who have seen the film or read one of its reviews will agree that Jha has brilliantly dealt with the issue of additional 27 per cent reservation in educational institutions in the first half. He has tactfully portrayed the angst of the youth who felt threatened by this new reservation system as well as of those who felt left out hinting the balance to be tilted in favour of the privileged ones. That was part one of the film where the director highlighted the issue and its perceived consequences. In the second half of the film, the director had the mammoth task of providing a solution to the problem. Film critics believe that this is where Jha has floundered, however, in my opinion that would be a simplistic way of looking at a film which deals with a complex issue.

Jha has built his film on the premise that if we talk of competition and merit then the basic tenet of equal opportunities should be followed. Digressing a bit, I remember the days when student communities proclaiming to fight for equality took to streets across the country protesting against reservation. I was staying in the AIIMS hostel in 2005-06 in New Delhi, with a friend when the doctors went on protest and the country’s premier medical institution almost faced a breakdown. I wonder if it would have been the case if there was sufficient representation of the largest section of India’s population, namely the backward classes, amongst these doctors. There was some Census statistics made available by various media houses saying that over 70 per cent of Indians belonged to the backward classes and reservation could pave a path for equal opportunities in the medium term. There have been debates on reservation based on economic status and perhaps that is the next way forward but caste system in India is a reality and the Government needed to do something for an equitable system.

In the film Aarakshan, Jha and his team of writers led by Anjum Rajabali, had the task of providing a permanent solution of equal opportunities to students in educational institutions, which has been presently dealt with an ad-hoc solution of reservation. Jha has chosen to say that the solution lies in drastically improving our primary education system, thereby, he has employed the symbols of ‘tabela classes’ and ‘KK coaching centre’ which represent government schools and elite private schools respectively. Had he used real names like DPS, St. Xaviers, Dhirubhai Ambani International School etc. against Bachhan’s ‘tabela classes,’ audiences and critics would have perhaps liked it better, but then Jha would have drowned himself in a sea of legal tangles.

Jha emphasises and tries to persuade the audiences and the Government that bolstering our primary education system can narrow the drift between student classes over the long term. According to him Aarakshan is not a permanent solution as the fundamental divide disrupting equality lies somewhere else. Perhaps he wanted to say Aarakshan se zyaada zaroori hai behtar shikshan.