Film Review: Aarakshan (Reservation)

A name that still rattles the nerves of many people especially the youth across India is the issue of reservation (affirmative action) and has been used by governments time and again to divide people along their caste lines. This film by the noted director – Prakash Jha, which was released recently stoked controversy mainly among some of the pro reservationist section of the Indian establishment who objected to some of the lines in the film. It led to a ban on the film in three states across India namely: Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, who cited law and order problem on account of its controversial theme.

But the film was a disappointment to say the least and hardly evoked any sort of protest amongst either the pro-reservationist or the anti-reservationist youth. One might even add it was a way of stiffling artistic expression to woo a certain electoral constituency. The film can hardly be described anti -reservationist or anti-dalit for that matter and for a Bollywood movie, with the usual unimaginative storyline and its penchant for avoiding political themes, this film was nevertheless a departure in that sense. But what did not change was the sticking to the old time tested formula of a Bollywood movie: the good vs evil, a romance in between, the messianic kind of sacrifice of the main character in holding firm on his beliefs and finally everybody lived happily ever after (although one might add there was much more maturity, sensitivity and coming of age in this film than a typical Bollywood movie).

What starts of as a storyline dealing with the issue of reservation, is thrown overboard in the second half by touching upon the theme of commercialization of education in India which ends up as a clash of personalities: with the good (Big B – Amitabh Bachan, the principle protagonist standing for the ideals of a just and an equitable society) against the evil (Manoj Bajpai, standing for unbridled commercialization). It all ends up with the good triumphing over the evil.

The film in a muddled and confused way tries to oversimplify the issue of reservation and commercialization of education, without pressing upon the need for a free quality public education system from school to college. And ends up by compromising with the existing system by way of promoting a more humane private educational institutional run on trust or philanthropic basis! Private educational institutes (whether run by corporates or trusts like the missionary schools) are the biggest cause of illiteracy in the country by way of their control of educational system via vested interests representing them in the political system of the country.