Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cinema Caste-ing

While the director of Aarakshan, Prakash Jha defends his movie, we take a look at the much created hype surrounding the movie and if it was worth it.

Long before the release of the movie Aarakshan, it ran into troubled waters. Directed by Prakash Jha, this film is based on the policy of reservation in the Indian education system.  The controversies that surrounded the movie were led by protests from caste groups, ban on its screening in three states and massive publicity. However, the fuss was justified or not remains a question.

The film was banned in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab before its theatrical release on the basis of possibly the title or the perception of what the film was about. The government also feared that certain scenes and dialogues in the film may inflame the passion of some communities and create law and order hassles in the state. After the makers of the movie moved to the Supreme Court with the issue, the ban on UP was lifted.

The star cast which includes Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Prateik and Deepika Padukone, were provided with security after receiving threats from protester of cast groups.

Saif Ali Khan who plays the role of a Dalit in the movie was highly objected by pro-dalit groups who felt that the actor’s royal background clashed and insulted with his role in the movie. “I portray the character of a teacher who believes quotas provide opportunities to the weaker sections of helping them succeed on their own merits”, said Saif Ali Khan when questioned.

 “While the overall theme of the film is not objectionable, it is loaded with anti-Dalit and anti-reservation dialogues,” said the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) chairman P.L. Punia who viewed the movie after getting complaints of its objectionable content. The movie is granted a U/A certification.

Prakash Jha has a different stance on the situation. He says, “Some politicians started rumors that this movie is against Dalits. The fact is that this is a pro-reservation and pro-Dalit movie.” The 59-year-old filmmaker further adds, “It is not easy to make a film on aarakshan [reservation] in India. But we managed to do it. Nowhere in Hindi cinema will you find these kinds of dialogues… This movie brought out the anxieties of the people in the form of a story. This movie is not about solutions. Getting people to talk about this issue in the open is my greatest achievement”.

The movie managed to amass Rs 58.5 crore within its first week of release after facing a “tough battle” and received positive reactions from the audience. “The movie superficially touches upon issues like the commercialization of education and a bit of caste-based reservation however there was nothing overtly controversial or offensive about the film”, said Basant Malavi one of the early viewers. Many seemed to have agreed with him.

According to a 2001 census, about 160 million Indians, or 16 percent of the world's second biggest population, are Dalits. Cast groups that protested and opposed the movie even before the release of the movie was probably ignorant or driven by some vote-hungry politician. On the contrary, the movie deals with empowerment and upliftment of the backward community and the hang-ups of educational system which most people are aware about, but do not voice it.

For a person living in a metropolitan city willing to pay Rs 300 to watch a movie like Aarakshan in a multiplex, it really wouldn’t matter why and how the Dalits are insulted and how the makers of the movie have put the Indian educational system in a harsh light. He would be more concerned with the gripping and entertainment factor which the movie delivered slightly. The movie seemed like a muddle of futile situations. It’s definitely a one-time watch.

Through all the modernization and economic growth, India still remains a soft target for cast discrimination. While filmmakers try to highlight the situation and make income in the process, politicians emotionally exploit the backward cast and turn them against such filmmakers trying to earn possible support during the time of elections.

Palak Singh

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