Besides the usual disclaimer that precedes a film that all incidents, characters and similarities portrayed within are coincidental at best, Priyadarshan's Aakrish takes one extra step to reinforce this point, as it wants to tackle the real world issue of "honour killing" on film, cobbling together a series of faux pas newspaper articles and stamping them as "Fact", before hammering a full size "Fiction" inter-title across the screen prior to the commencement of the film proper. And up until the last frame did it dawn upon me that the narrative also took issue, besides caste, with that of corrupt cops and politicians who exploit an inherently weak justice system.
The story is sufficient to make you seethe with rage as we follow the investigations into the disappearance of three students, whose final moments will get enacted in due course, but only as we gain a certain foothold and breakthrough as experienced by the police officers Sidhant Chaturvedi (Akshaye Khanna) and Pratap Kumar (Ajay Devgan off the success of his recent Once Upn a TIme in Mumbai). Arriving from Delhi under the orders of the central government under pressure by a demonstrating student group seeking answers, the two protagonist have to quickly learn and get comfortable with each other's working style to maintain a certain degree of sanity as they tackle an environment that is most hostile, and alien to Sidhant, whose by-the-book methods are in danger of collapsing anytime.
This especially so when faced with an uncooperative local police force who cooks up possibly every reason available not to do work, and through their blatant obstruction of justice, may seem to suggest some involvement in the primary case as well. While on one hand providing unintentional comedy, I feel the investigating officers' pain when they hit a brick wall from within their own support group who more often than not seem to be on the other side of the fence.
It's the culture of silence that is most deafening, and for the first hour before the interval, Aakrosh is quite frustrating to sit through not because of its relatively slow pace, but how we see how helpless our heroes can be given their operating within red tape, and letting others rip them apart because processes rightfully bound them from hitting out. Those who have information are also cowered by threats and an innate fear that it's best to keep one's mouth shut, otherwise punishment will come in the form of bodily harm, and even death as dished out by the masked militia of men who call themselves Shool's Army, intolerant individuals bandied together to bully others into submitting to their bigoted beliefs.
For those not versed in the caste system, this film may give you an idea what it's about as it laments about the state of current affairs, and how there's so much room for improvement in terms of people's attitudes. Director Priyadarshan, whom I associate with comedies like Billu Barber and De Dana Dan, goes all serious and doesn't mince his words in Aakrosh's epilogue, as he crafts a somewhat bleak film with an ending that will raise some eyebrows, suggesting at times that you got to play fire with fire, and some of the techniques employed by the cops here may highlight certain (il)legal framework that many may not be familiar with for us outside India, but so long as it works (and a brilliant plan and execution I must add).
The film works because of the great chemistry between the pairing of Aakshaye Khanna and Ajay Devgan as cops who have the potential to be the best of buddies, yet operating on different investigative philosophies that put them at loggerheads as well. They share some explosive charisma on screen that just chews up all the surrounding scenery, with magnetic qualities that help to tide through the less happening stages of the film, one of which I felt was overly long and probably unnecessary was the entire backstory song/dance routine for Ajay's Pratap and his one time lady love Geetha (a glam-less Bipasha Basu), their relationship being a victim of caste hypocrisy.
Despite being passed with an Adults only rating in India and suffering 2 cuts from a reported 30 planned by the censor board there, Aakrosh is still a hard hitting investigative thriller. While the trailer may suggest high octane action, these sequences are fairly limited in the film, with nothing that especially stands out to wow. There's a rooftop chase sequence with a fair bit of parkour, but it's more reminiscent of Hollywood's Bourne series which delivered the action scenes with a bit more of a refined flair, with this being a bit rough off the edges. However a ballsy story without mincing its themes make Aakrosh the winner here.