Pareeksha Review – Terrific plot let down by a simplistic narrative

Srivathsan Nadadhur

Every parent hailing from an underprivileged background sees their future through the education of their wards; they view it as a doorway of hope that could help them rise above the muck they’re living amidst. But, how far can an earning member in such a household, a father, go in fulfilling that quest? What if he, amidst his helplessness, loses sight of right and wrong while securing a child’s wellbeing? Pareeksha, coming from filmmaker Prakash Jha, is a tale about a rickshaw puller Buchi, who leaves no stone unturned to give a strong academic foundation to his teenager-son Bulbul. The film suggests how education remains the only avenue to surmount the very apparent class and caste divide in society.

The rickshaw puller-protagonist Buchi, in the film, is of the opinion that private school education is the only hope for the future of his self-motivated son, currently studying in a government school. The father is so naïve that he believes education in CBSE curriculum can alone and only give a fillip to his son’s academic pursuits. (This is not the film that tries to address the issues that ail education in government schools) The mother, meanwhile, works as a small-time labourer in a factory. Unknowingly, Buchi lands at a wallet full of money, which he doesn’t return to its rightful owner. The incident triggers him to become a burglar. He does it in the best interest of his son’s education, though law catches up with him soon. What’s the price that the son has to pay for his father’s sins?

Like Prakash Jha’s most films, Pareeksha takes up a very broad canvas and ends up over-simplifying a gamut of issues it aims to highlight. The result, at 102 minutes, is compelling and zips past you quickly, but the solution to its concerns is too simplistic and convenient; like offering a crocin tablet to a cancer-affected patient. The sucker punch doesn’t land all that well because it sympathises too much with its subjects, the poor – it’s too happy being a poor-versus-rich story taking an education angle. It has too many black and white characters and aims for dramatic effect over realism.

The rich are portrayed as though they don’t have any heart and the poor can only be the generous lot. Teachers and staff working in private schools always look at the underprivileged in a poor light. The father of a private school-going child wants the most comfortable seat in the rickshaw reserved for his child over the poor boy. The only positive character among the rich is the supposedly empathetic school principal who has some consideration for merit beyond privilege.  The film’s most effectively written part isn’t its protagonist Buchi but a cop (played by Sanjay Suri) who handles the case revolving around his burglary. Pareeksha places him as a cop hailing from the backward class, as one who understands the place where Buchi comes from and what had forced him to resort to burglary. He’s the kind of a cop who teaches kids from an underprivileged background after his work.

The problem with Pareeksha is that it doesn’t question the absence of access to quality education to every sect in society. It is too caught up in glamorising private education and in the end, it appears as if that’s the only channel for anyone from a humble background to chase academic glory. The character of the cop, that’s so crucial to the academic growth of the child, is conveniently forgotten towards the end. The politician conveniently gets the cop transferred to a remote location when he doesn’t adhere to his demands; everything happens so easily.

When viewed as a human drama alone though, Pareeksha strikes an emotional chord. There are many poignant moments where the father doesn’t gather the courage to show his face to his son while being behind bars. The guilt and the greed that envelops the protagonist as he indulges in small-time robberies reflects the transformation in the character and the vulnerable side to a human sensitively. Purely going by cinematic effect, the underdog victory, of a rickshaw puller’s son finding admission in a private school and eventually becoming a school topper, tastes sweet. The setup is only partly effective in its bid to be an enriching drama, given it doesn’t offer a complete picture of the world around its characters.

If Pareeksha manages to impress you despite its contrivances, the performances could very likely be the reason. The film has a winning lead cast, be it Priyanka Bose as a mother with a conscience, content with her life or Adil Hussain as the father who always seeks more to fend for the education of his son. Sanjay Suri, despite the minimal screen-time, is impactful as the do-gooder cop who turns a mentor to the child in the need of the hour. Your heart melts as you see child actor Shubham slip into the skin of the aware, empathetic son who understands the inequality in the world around him with poise. Prakash Jha dabbles with a weighty subject for a film but is very selective in his focus. Pareeksha is still easily one of his better works in recent times in comparison to outings like Satyagraha, Aarakshan.

(Pareeksha is streaming on ZEE5)

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