Ascurtains come down for the film, you end up wondering whether 'Aarakshan' was indeed about reservation. Or was it about caste system? Or was it about capitation fees? Or was it about coaching centres blooming across the country? Or was it about commercialisation of education? Or was it eventually about the saga of 'kisme kitna hai dum'? Now it's sad to have such questions cropping up since as a subject and genre, this was just the kind of territory that one expects Prakash Jha to excel in film after film.
A film that does make a pro-reservation statement though in a subtle rather than overtly explicit manner, 'Aarakshan' - at least in the beginning - turns out to be the kind of drama that one had always expected from it. Amitabh Bachchan sticking to his principles, his decisions leading to his rift with not just his students like Saif Ali Khan and Prateik but also his own daughter (Deepika Padukone), his junior turned rival (Manoj Bajpai) surpassing him to gain hold over the top post, the troubles that he faces post that - all of this makes for an arresting viewing.
Still, the very first.15 minutes seem to be scattered all over the places and though 'Raajneeti' too had a similar start where character introduction took it's own time, it was far more entertaining for sure. Here in case of 'Aarakshan', there are two songs that arrive almost back to back that threaten to kill the momentum that was finally building up. Just when one tends to get a tad impatient, the Supreme Court announcement around added quota for OBC perks up the drama in a big way. For the first time in the movie, one sees vintage Prakash Jha at work as several powerhouse scenes come one after another, hence leading to enhanced entertainment. Especially notable are the scenes between Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai that stay on to be the best of the lot.
However in this entire drama just when one would have expected Saif Ali Khan to contribute more, he disappears from the scene hence resulting in a vacuum. Also the moment focus shifts from 'reservation' to 'coaching centres', not just the drama fizzle down but the sheer seriousness of the entire movie watching experience also doesn't hold similar weight as the first half.
Last 20 odd minutes take the film further downhill and though the idea is to get a sense of euphoria on screen, that doesn't quite happen. Amidst all of this, the man who stands tall is, as expected, Amitabh Bachchan. He is tremendous in his performance, especially when he is an all powerful man while occupying the chair of authority. Of course his body language turns feeble once he is deprived of his powers, which means he isn't allowed similar heavy duty dialogue baazi as heard earlier. The man who gives 'karaara jawaab' at quite afew junctures is Manoj Bajpai who justifies Jha's decision of pitting him against Bachchan.
On the other hand Saif Ali Khan remains largely unutilised which is such a pity. His disappearance during the middle portions of the film and a rather passive presence in the second half makes it an unsatisfactory experience for a viewer. Comparatively Deepika Padukone is there throughout the film and though she does hold up well in each of her scenes, she is primarily required to play Bachchan's support system for most part of her screen time. Prateik proves once again (after 'Dum Maaro Dum') that he needs to do a lot more before one can justify all the hype around him since 'Dhobi Ghat' days.
So eventually did I really watch he same film which had reservation as its central theme? Well, at least it started on that note though I have no clue what really led to an absolute shift in storyline as the film moved into the second half. It is apparent that though Prakash Jha had a good idea in hand, somewhere down the line there has been a certain change in thought process that led to two entirely different films pre and post the interval point.