Pareeksha movie review: A well-intentioned film

Pareeksha movie cast: Adil Hussain, Priyanka Bose, Shubham Jha, Sanjay Suri
Pareeksha movie director: Prakash Jha
Pareeksha movie rating: Two and a half stars

Based on a real-life story, Pareeksha is about a rickshaw puller in Bihar whose desire to see his son attend the city’s best English-medium private school, surmounts all else. And while the treatment is linear, often taking a simplistic hop-skip-jump over tough problems to reach its message-y end, it toplines hope: if one poor man’s child can break into the privileged sanctum of expensive education which will lead to a better life, so can many others.

Buchchi (Hussain) has been ferrying children to Sapphire International school for several years, while his own son Bulbul (Shubham) goes to a government school. That he is Dalit is not explicitly stated, but his address is ‘Ambedkar Colony’, where he lives with his wife Priyanka (Bose, effective) and super-bright son: the ‘pareeksha’ is not just the several exams his son has to pass to first get into the English medium school and then be able to write the life-altering CBSE board exams, it’s also a test of how far Buchchi will go to facilitate that dream, while Priyanka supplements the meagre family income with an exacting assembly-line job in a local factory.

Buchchi’s veering towards the petty criminal life is shown as a good man’s desperation to do whatever he can to make the impossible amount of money needed for the boy’s fees and other unending school-related expenses. It is hard to make an honest living by those who live on the margins (other rickshaw-pullers in the movies come to mind, especially Balraj Sahni in Bimal Roy’s 1953 landmark Do Bigha Zameen), and how the powerful prey upon the meek.

Predictably, Buchchi lands up in the jaws of the police and courts, and the way out brings in the film’s saviour, a top cop (Suri) who begins teaching the kids in Ambedkar Colony in his spare time. And predictably, Bulbul aces his ‘pareeksha’, the film glossing over the challenges a ‘Hindi medium’ student can face in school: the fact that he is low caste is conveniently kept out of the school’s purview, in the shape of a belligerent parent who doesn’t want his son to share space in the rickshaw.

To pull a rickshaw is a back-breaking job. Adil Hussain is absolutely believable as Buchchi, the soles of his feet dusty, the lengthening arch of his back as he takes a slope, with his rickshaw filled with too many children. You wish though that the dialogue was not so on the nose: ‘aukaat se zyaada sapne dekh liya’, says Buchchi, and while that is a valid sentiment, some of his scenes are laden with old-style melodrama, especially in which Buchchi appears bent and broken in front of the compassionate policeman.

Jha knows his Bihar. The accents, the cadences, the characters, including the gold-chained festooned ‘sahukar’ and the entitled ‘sahebs’, feel right. An underdog-as-winner is an always-in-demand subject; a little less exposition would have made this well-intentioned film better.

Pareeksha is streaming on ZEE5.

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