Row over Aarakshan theme

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By TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
  • Published 17.07.11
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Lucknow, July 16: Prakash Jha’s upcoming film Aarakshan has run into a controversy following complaints that the theme, reservation, might unleash fresh social tensions and the director set against a special screening for “self-appointed” censors.

This is not the first time the film, due for release on August 12, has been embroiled in a dispute. Two months ago, some backward caste leaders had protested against the choice of Saif Ali Khan, a scion of a Bhopal royal family, to play a Dalit in the film.

The latest quarrel involves a July 14 notice from the SC/ST Commission to the Censor Board. The board is expected to appear before the commission, a constitutional body, on July 18.

“I would like to watch the film before it is released to see if it might cause any fresh social backlash across the nation over the sensitive issue of reservation. You know what happened in the country over the issue in the past,” commission chairman P.L. Punia, a former chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, told The Telegraph today.

“A number of voluntary organisations approached me voicing concern that the film’s spirit was against reservation. It may cause social unrest. They have formally sent applications to the commission and I have taken cognisance of those,” Punia, now a Congress MP from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, added.

The comment came a day after Jha issued a statement in Mumbai saying he wouldn’t allow a special screening of the film for the commission. Tomorrow, some more organisations may approach with a request to screen the film for them, he said. “Let the Censor Board decide whether my film is damaging in any sense. I won’t let it be censored by self-appointed censors.”

The maker of Rajneeti, however, said if there were any issues about the upcoming film, he would clarify them for the commission.

The controversy comes months before elections are due in Uttar Pradesh. Observers said the film could open new wounds in a state whose 3.2 crore Dalits account for a sizeable chunk of the population but occupy the lowest position in the social structure and face constant discrimination.

Some politicians, mainly from the Congress, said if reservation sentiments were resurrected before the polls next year, it could lead to polarisation of votes along caste lines at a time party MP Rahul Gandhi was focusing on development.

Old-timers recalled the storm the Mandal Commission recommendations had unleashed in the eighties and the image of an anti-reservation student leader in flames.

Leaders of Dalit chief minister Mayavati’s BSP and the opposition Samajwadi Party refused comment.

Another of Jha’s hard-hitting films, Aarakshan is a high-voltage, socio-political drama based on caste-based reservations in government jobs and educational institutions.

Apart from Saif, a dairy owner who applies for the job of a professor, the film features Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone.