Pareeksha movie review: Test of patience? Nope!
Pareeksha, as the title suggests, or Agony Pareeksha, as it should've been called, is about education for kids in a country where the gulf between private and government school makes all the difference between a future, and the lack thereof
Dir: Prakash Jha
Cast: Adil Hussain, Priyanka Bose, Shubham
Of course you know this already — this is a Prakash Jha film. Only reiterating, for you to see it through that lens, foremost; and place it within his body of work first. Only then will the film — shorn of dramatic highs and lows, and yet stuffed with several over-the-top and obvious moments — will keep you patiently engaged, rather than turning into a pareeksha (test) of patience, instead.
That Jha, 68, has been merging political/social commentary with mainstream entertainment, starring the likes of the hardcore action-hero Ajay Devgn in the lead (GangaaJal, 2003), from a time when there was barely such a thing as an urban-multiplex culture, let alone a Netflix/OTT film, is a feat, I suspect, one doesn't acknowledge enough.
Pareeksha, as the title suggests, or Agony Pareeksha, as it should've been called, is about education for kids in a country where the gulf between private and government school makes all the difference between a future, and the lack thereof. Surely you've seen, say, most recently Saket Chaudhary's Hindi Medium (2017), on the same subject. Also, that education in India is essentially an examination system cannot be over-stated. And it isn't here either.
This film is uniquely Jha's take, in a manner he knows best. Which is to chiefly to set it among natives of the North, in particular Bihar (usually). And which explains an Assamese (the brilliant Adil Hussain), and Bengali (the lovely Priyanka Bose), playing parents to a Bihari boy (Shubham) in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.
Hussain as the old man/parent Paswan pulls a rickshaw in Pareeksha. His sole aim in life is to see his child into the swanky school he ferries kids to everyday. That his boy is bright makes his dream, although technicolour, technically believable.
There is something to be said about "kshamta" (capability) and "bhookh" (hunger), as this film does. And the fact of how someone rising up the classes is blessed with bhookh, so long as kshamta is in place — in ways that is enviable for better placed competitors. But I'm guessing enough has also been said on the subject too?
Watch the trailer of Pareeksha here:
When does this film occasionally transcend from trundling into clichés, to captivating you with its story-telling? As with most fiction, when elements of truth elevate it. By which I mean portions in this picture about a bright police officer. Sanjay Suri plays this part so frickin' sincerely. He enters the scene, not so much to investigate a crime, as to educate little children in a basti. For, that's the cop's personal passion.
This character is based on a true life IPS officer Abhiyanand. Why should you know about him? Because you've seen Vikas Bahl's biopic Super 30 (2019), similarly about a Bihari (Anand Kumar), played by Hrithik Roshan, who runs a teaching programme for under-privileged kids. By all accounts the success of the tutorial institute Super 30 is as much Abhiyanand's story as well. There was full-on dispute over this, before the release of Super 30, I recall.
And my theory is — at this point, unverified — that Jha intended to make this film, for massive theatrical entertainment, centred entirely on the boy and the cop's part. Which given that Super 30 already exists, may not have been easy to command/collect resources for. That said, this is still a relevant subject, about studies/exams being the only exit route from a life of poverty in India. The other is theft/crime. Pareeksha looks into that as well.
It's dropped on an OTT platform (Zee5). Which is where it really belongs. The web is progressively becoming the place to gently marry lightness of film, with the heaviness of issues filmmakers wish to weigh on, without being obsessed with footfalls on Day One. Should be Jha's natural playground — a whole new direction to chart, honestly. Much like his self-assured/under-watched debut, Hip Hip Hurray (1984), also set in Ranchi. As an audience, treating this film as a fair start.
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