Three thoughts came to mind when I first heard that Aakrosh was an adaptation of Mississippi Burning. First, was that most adaptations, reboots, remakes, whatever you want to call them, are usually disappointing. My second thought was that the idea of replacing race with caste was an intriguing idea, and this gave me a sense of excitement about the movie. Finally, no one can outperform Gene Hackman. By the time the ending credits hit the screen, Aakrosh was already in mind as being one of the best adaptations I have seen. It is a social film that can be watched anywhere in the world, and should strike the audience with a perturbing sense of social disparity that they can relate to.
Compared to most adaptations of movies, Aakrosh was successful because it kept true to the heart of Mississippi Burning as well as the social concern, and it stared Indian actors who shared a likeness to Mississippi Burning’s Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. It seems that most adaptations replace powerful acting with sub-par actors/actress whose greatest attribute is a handsome/pretty face. Vince Vaughn’s horrible performance as Norman Bates (originally played by Anthony Perkins) in Psycho, or Sarah Michelle Gellar’s “Buffy” persona in The Grudge….enough said! I realize that Aakrosh’s Pratap Kumar (Ajay Devgn) is a well-built supermodel compared to Hackman, and Siddhant Chaturvedi (Akshaye Khanna) is not nearly as ugly as Dafoe (only Steve Buscemi holds that title); however, they had a powerful cinematic presence like their American counterparts. Their conflict with the situation in hand, each other’s ego, as well as their own internal struggle was superb. My favorite scene is when Pratap is throwing the local police officer, Ajatshatru Singh (Paresh Rawal), around the barbershop while Siddhant waits outside. With the exception of few angle shots, this scene was amazingly identical to the scene in Mississippi Burning in which Hackman is doing the same to Brad Dourif. It had a feeling of raw anger, and it was great.
As Dr. Dujovny said in his review, the movie revolves around an honour killing and inter-class violence in Jhanjhar, Bihar. One of three victims was from Jhanjar and a member of the lower class (I assume Dalit). With the help of his university friends, he attempted to bring his love out of Jhanjhar, a daughter of one of the higher caste leaders, but was caught in the act and thus murdered. Upon the arrival of Pratap and Siddhant, the lower castes villagers were reluctant to assist in the investigation, but eventually they began to stand-up against the higher caste (police / local government). Unfortunately, this led to a series of brutal attacks by the higher caste just as the KKK did in Mississippi Burning. Instead of using a burning cross, the attackers used a burning trident to spread the fear. The trident is called Trishula, and it is carried by Shiva and Durga. The three points symbolize a number of variations, but they are more commonly associated with creation, maintenance, and destruction. It seems that movie was implying that the destruction of caste atrocities/inequalities will lead to the creation of a more unified India. Another way to look at it is that the mother who shot down the upper caste murderers in the end destroyed evil out of her love for her people. I do not know verbatim, but the ending quote stated that India’s freedom will prevail over caste. I thought this was interesting because “freedom” seems to be a common theme in Indian cinema over the last decade. To the best of my memory, in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, it was freedom from the evils of Partition; in Mangal Peday: The Rising, it was freedom from the British; finally, freedom from castes’ injustices in Aakrosh.
As much as I enjoyed the movie, I thought it did have a few scratches. As I always mention, I am not fan of over the top action sequences. I appreciate their choreography and the achievements in cinematography, but I feel that they get in the way of a great story. I was easily able to overlook the action scenes in Aakrosh compared to those in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. The Rama Leela is probably the best music scene I have seen in Indian cinema (short and sweet), but I did not see the significance of the love affair between Pratap and Geeta (Bipasha Basu). Even from the perspective of an Indian moviegoer, I did not see their love affair develop into anything that was real. I think the mother who lost her husband and son while keeping her will beautifully told the story of love in the movie.
After watching this movie, I see very few differences between casteism and racism. In The Ethnicity of Caste, Deepa S. Reddy mentions that there is less international recognition on caste-based injustices compared to race, gender, or religion based injustices. The article attributes the inadequate recognition of caste due to the lack of Western understanding, and that caste is overlooked as being an Indian phenomenon. I am a little skeptical about how this movie possibly exaggerated honour killings and inter-class violence, so I attempted to do a little a Google research. I typed in “Indian honour killings” under the news section. The first article that came up was posted within the hour, and was about a twenty-one year old woman and her four-month-old child who were murdered by her parents, because she was marrying a member of a lower caste (click HERE). Although the movie is probably an exaggerated, these are real life issues going on today in India.
As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Aakrosh is my favorite Indian movie by far, and one of my favorite adaptations of another movie by all standards. In fact, only three others come to mind. With that said, I admit that I prejudged Indian cinema based on my viewing of Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. The only two regrets I have about the movie are not having it front of me now, and not being able to find Mississippi Burning anywhere in Athens. Finally, Ajay Devgn was great, but he was no Gene Hackman