Prakash Jha is back with another socio-political film, Pareeksha. With the middle class rapidly shrinking, the divide between the rich and the poor increasing every day and considering that the pandemic has allowed only the affluent to carry on with their lives, Pareeksha is more relevant than ever. The film, which is inspired by a true story, tries to explore the class and caste divide present in our society and education system but only scratches the surface.
Buchi Paswan (Adil Hussain) is an endearing rickshaw puller who ferries the students to and fro their homes to the best private school in the city, Sapphire International. His wife, Radhika (Priyanka Bose), works in a factory for meagre pay and tries to support her family in every way she can. Their only son, Bulbul (Shubham Jha) is a bright and industrious student who studies in a nearby government school and teaches his fellow classmates living in the same slum.
Buchi knows that his son is talented and is their only way out of poverty. The film follows Buchi who can go to any length to provide his son with the education he deserves.
Along the way, we are introduced to top cop, SP Kailash Anand (Sanjay Suri), based on the real-life IPS officer, Abhayanad, who tutored exemplary students from economically weak backgrounds.
The story of Pareeksha merely hints at the issue of caste divide and is mainly focussed on the economic divide that forces Buchi to take bolder and bolder steps.
Adil Hussain is excellent in this film. He expertly conveys the ethical dilemmas his character faces throughout the film. We can feel that he is at the end of his rope. He yearns for his son to have a good life, a better life than he has and escape the “narak” (hell) they live in.
Priyanka Bose as Radhika complements Hussain. They have great chemistry in all the scenes they have together. Bose proves her mettle as an actor here. Radhika is a strong woman who does not hesitate to call out her husband. She ranges from willful and pragmatic to anxious and desperate.
Sanjay Suri as SP Kailash Anand and Shubham Jha as Bulbul are also adequate.
“English padh gaya toh electric rickshaw bhi chala sakta hai”, this line from the film perfectly reflects how learning in Engish instead of learning itself has become a priority in today’s world.
Apart from the class divide, Pareeksha touches on several important issues that need urgent attention; from the rampant linguistic imperialism to the vicious trap of money lenders that plagues the poor in our society.
Jha has always chosen his topics carefully. All his films leave us with some food for thought. Pareeksha does not disappoint.
Despite the noble intentions of Pareeksha, it is plagued with several flaws.
All the actors, except for the leads, are very wooden. All their lines seem rehearsed. All the fault cannot be attributed to the actors only as the screenplay was also not up to the mark. Most dialogues are unnatural and awkward. The film relies too much on melodrama and some scenes are reminiscent of 90s daily soap drama. The story itself is very linear and jam-packed with cliches. One can figure out every beat, twist and turn the story will offer in the first 20 minutes itself.
The music by Advait Nemlekar force-feeds us the emotion of the scene and takes the melodrama to the next level.
Pareeksha only has a 102-minute runtime, yet it seems to lag. The film loses all its steam towards the end of the second act and tries to infuse some tension after that but fails miserably.
But the biggest problem of the film, in my opinion, is that it does delve deeper into any of the issues it tackled. Everything is black and white, the greys are totally ignored. Most of the affluent people are one-dimensional villains out to get the poor.
The utter lack of nuance in the story combined with the melodrama can be vexing. If you would like a nostalgic trip back to the one-dimensional 90s’ Bollywood films that tug at your heartstrings and leave you with a neat message, Pareeksha is a perfect watch. But, if you want something more from the films you watch, this might not be your cup of tea.