Tackling the thorny issue of caste quotas in Indian government jobs and education, director Prakash Jha’s venture, Aarakshan is being released on August 12 in the face of vocal protests from minorities. Actor Saif Ali Khan, who plays the role of a school teacher in the film, believes people with their own political agendas are fanning controversies and making the situation “difficult to handle”.
Politicians and interest groups supporting the low-caste Hindus and other marginalised groups (that the reservation system is designed to help) have joined forces against the multi-starrer film, labelling it to be “anti-Dalit and anti-reservation”. A Dalit (also known as outcaste/untouchables) group in Patna was upset with the director for casting Khan — who belongs to a former royal family — as a Dalit school teacher in the film. “I am surprised to see people creating so many controversies without even watching the film. Instead of creating awareness and doing something, they are just sensationalising things,” Khan tells IANS.
Recently, activists from the Republican Party of India (RPI) attacked Jha’s home and office in Mumbai to stall the release of the film. While complaining about the vandalism that is affecting the lives of people associated with the film, Khan says that, “The controversies around the film are going overboard. There is a police van standing all the time in front of my house. Prakash Jha is a very honest film-maker and he doesn’t deserve all this.”
The Uttar Pradesh government had asked for a special screening of Aarakshan prior to its release, to see if the film could disturb the law and order situation in the state.”Even the censor board has cleared the film without any cuts and given it a U/A certificate. Some people have their own political agenda and they are trying to make things difficult at the last moment,” the 40-year-old actor explains.
Khan admits he didn’t believe in the idea of reservation before he became a part of the film, but now he genuinely supports the idea. “I believe that there should be some kind of reservation, because there are many underprivileged people and they have to be helped,” he says. The actor realises that reservations could be unfair for students with higher grades but believes a proper balance could make the system work.
Before he could take what he calls his ‘most challenging role’, Khan met some people from a particular stratum of society and did extensive research on Dalits to do justice to his character.
Director Prakash Jha — who is known for making films on hard-hitting topics such as corruption, bribery — also tried to eradicate the misconceptions brewing about his latest project. “Aarakshan is not anti-reservation and/or anti-Dalit,” the director says.
“In India there are people who benefit from this policy and there are those who have missed an opportunity because of the policy. Reservation and the quota system is a hard-hitting reality. It is almost an India versus India situation and by showing this in my film, I’m trying to bridge the gap,” he adds.
WITH ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM AFP
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2011.
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