7 January 2011

AAKROSH (Dir. Priyadarshan, 2010, India) - Caste Politics

A remake of Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning, Priyadarshan’s transfers the politics of race relations to that of caste in the ruralism of Bihar. Hailing from Kerala, Priyadarshan forged his career making a string of commercially successful comedies in Malayalam with actor Mohanlal. Including his extensive output from the eighties, Priyadarshan has to date directed over eighty films and is perhaps one of the most prolific directors working in the world today. I have not seen any of his films with Mohanlal, many of which he has remade since his shift into the Hindi film industry, but Virasat (The Inheritance) which he made in the nineties is one of my favourite Hindi films and might actually feature Anil Kapoor’s best performance. Aakrosh is a stylised attempt to bring to light to the continuing cancerous existence of caste politics and honour killings in rural India. Ideologically, the discriminatory and brutal caste divide encountered by the two officers, played by Akshay Khanna and Ajay Devgan, in Bihar uncovers predictably an insipid collusion between the police, religious elements and landowners in which law and order is dispensed independently and at will.

The politics of caste has been dealt with by most of the major Indian auteurs including notably Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal; Benegal’s work is particularly seminal in this context. Priyadarshan freely admits that whilst Aakrosh does deal with a serious yet largely invisible social problem, the demands of commercial cinema means the parameters of ideological engagement are somewhat constrained and defined by genre determinants. Kanchivaram (A Communist Confession, 2008) perhaps indicates Priyadarshan does have that capacity to move fluidly between mainstream and more personal, independent projects. For a detailed analysis of Kanchivaram, read Srikanth’s entry on his blog. Aakrosh should have found an audience given the film is a technical triumph and puts together some memorable fast paced action sequences. The ending is marred though by a terrible oversight of ideological fantasising.

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