Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review of Aligarh

Image Courtesy: Facebook page of Aligarh
Cast: Manoj Bajpai (Professor Siras), Rajkummar Rao (Deepu Sebastian), Dilnaz Irani (Namita), Ashish Vidyarthi (Advocate Anand Grover), Sukesh Arora (Tahir Islam), Balaji Gauri (Nita Grewal), Sumit Gulati (Tashi), KR Parmeshwar (Professor Sridharan), Ishwak Singh (Arvind Narayan), Nutan Surya (Anjali Gopalan), Divya Unny (Reporter), Suman Vaidya (Shadab Qureshi)
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Story Idea and Research: Ishani Banerjee
Written by: Apurva Asrani
Screenplay by: Apurva Asrani
Music by: Karan Kulkarni
Cinematography: Satya Rai Nagpaul
Edited by: Apurva Asrani
Production Company: Eros Entertainment, Karma Pictures
Release date: 26th February, 2016
Language: Hindi
Duration: 2 hours

Aligarh, a biographical film by Hansal Mehta, is based on the life of a professor of Aligarh Muslim University – Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras. The year 2016 has so far seen two films Airlift and Neerja inspired from the true stories and here is another one, Aligarh. Such films really raise the bar of Bollywood films and Aligarh is no exception. It has created a lot of buzz offlate due to the intensity of the topic. Aligarh is a rare take on homophobia. We as individuals have the right to design our choices, and so, how would it be, if one is to face discrimination due to the choice he or she makes in their lives. Aligarh is based on one such true story about Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who kept his sexual preference confidential for years, but became a victim to an undercover sting operation just before a few months short of his retirement and was suspended from his post. Aligarh is just highlighting one point that every individual born on this earth has the right to live. Yes, we are living in a country, where homosexuality is illegal [Section 377, Indian Penal Code, 1860, which criminalizes carnal intercourse against the order of nature, was declared unconstitutional by the High Court of India on 2nd July, 2009, but this judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court of India on 12th December, 2013, saying that amending or repealing this section should be a matter left to parliament and not the judiciary. But, on 2nd February, 2016, the Supreme Court during hearing of the petitions submitted, said that all the curative petitions submitted will be reviewed afresh by a 5 member constitutional bench]. Aligarh is not an attempt to get the Section 377 repealed, but it tries to raise a very important point, we as a society shall protect the basic rights of every individual, be it LGBT, i.e. to allow them to live their lives without victimizing them for the sexual preferences they have. This film talks about just one Professor Siras, but certainly, there are umpteen Professor Siras in our country, who are suffering. The film draws our attention to the fact that how important it is for us as a society to change our attitude. We don’t have any right to judge anyone on the basis of their most personal and intimate choices, can’t enter anyone’s bedroom to question their dignity. Yes, the taboo topic of the film i.e. homophobia can make the film an adult film, but there are enough content in this film which can make the current as well as the coming generations thoughtful. This film not only deals with an homosexual’s ordeal, but also deals with other issues viz. right to live, desire to maintain dignity, redeem the maligned status, loneliness, finding solace in music and drinks to fight solitude, the very meaning of love etc. Brilliantly crafted film.

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia page
Who was Professor Siras? (Inputs from Wikipedia) : Professor Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras was a professor at Aligarh Muslim University specializing in Marathi Literature and the head of the Department of Modern Indian Languages. He had written many short stories in Marathi and also received Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad award. He was suspended from his post by AMU, following a sting operation on him intruding the privacy of his apartment, where he was found having sex with his rikshaw puller friend. Though he won his case against his university in the court, and got his job back as professor, he was found dead in mysterious conditions in his apartment within a week in 2010. 

About the film Aligarh: The film by Hansal Mehta is a brilliant effort to depict the story of Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee). The film begins with Prof Siras coming home in a rikshaw and later, both Prof Siras and rikshaw puller going inside his house. And the next day newspapers headlines talk about Prof Siras being caught up in compromising position with the rikshaw puller. Lot of aggression is there amongst people, who burn his effigies in front of Aligarh University (yes, in the film, the university is called as Aligarh University, AU, shot at Bareilly). He is being suspended from his post.

Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao), a journalist with Indian Post Newspaper requests Namitha (Dilnaz Irani) to allow him to cover Professor Siras’ story. For Namitha, it is a ‘sex scandal’ story whereas for Deepu, it is a human story. Namitha is keen to give this story to someone experienced. After persistent efforts, Deepu manages to get the permission to cover Prof Siras’ story. Deepu along with his cameraman colleague Tashi (Sumit Gulati –Talwar fame) travels to meet Prof Siras. How after initial reluctance, a beautiful bond of sharing develops between Deepu and Prof Siras.

Prof Siras’ colleague and friend Prof Sridharan gets an apology letter signed by Prof Siras to submit at college. But nothing works out in Prof Siras’ favour, rather following his suspension, he is even given notice to vacate his accommodation, electricity is provided only for four hours in a day.

Prof Siras is miffed up with the way world is reacting to his news. He finds solace in a peg and in Lata Mangeshkar’s songs.

Activists convince him to file his case against Aligarh University so as to revoke his suspension. That is where the entry of Ashish Vidyarthi as Advocate Anand Grover happens.

Rest of the film is about how the court proceedings happen, how Prof Siras had to bear the brunt of coming out in open, accepting that he is a gay and fighting against his university. The film also portrays Prof Siras’ life through his words. His bond with Deepu also plays a pivotal point in the film. Watch the film to know, how the story has been presented.      

There are not many dialogues in the film, rather a perfect combination of words and silences are used. It is the same as how Prof Siras describes poetry: “It is in the silences. It is in the spaces between words.”  One of the good aspects about the film is that plot like this is so sensitively and sensibly handled.  

Certain scenes, dialogues are very thought provoking and interesting and some others will move you. I don’t want to highlight them, since, one must watch the film to experience the same. Still, to mention a few: Prof Siras, in spite of all the happenings, still speaking very high of Aligarh University to Deepu; Doctor and the nurse ignoring Prof Siras, he chooses to test his blood pressure all by himself inside Doctor’s cabin; his not even knowing the word gay; during court proceedings, he takes out his own book to read etc. A dialogue where he tells Deepu that how important it is to understand love, which is a beautiful word, but we end up maligning it by making it sound like a dirty word.

I don’t want to mention the scenes, but there is a clear cut message through those scenes that love just happens, and at times, lust is there between two people to fill their own voids of life. Who decides the morality?

Manoj Bajpayee as Professor Siras is outstanding. How wonderfully he has displayed the body language of a 63 year old Prof Siras. Manoj’s face expresses every emotion of Prof Siras, be it his embarrassment, fear, anger, pain. Manoj brilliantly projects the suffocation of Prof Siras too. Manoj has created a new benchmark for himself and other actors.

Rajkummar Rao is also very good as Deepu, who brings so much ease to the character which he does. Ashish Vidyarthi as always is very good. Dilnaz Irani and rest of the cast are also very good.

Hansal Mehta’s flawless direction, Ishani Banerjee’s ideated plot, deft writing/editing of Apurva Asrani to convert the same into a full-fledged film, music by Karan Kulkarni and Satya Rai Nagpaul’s brilliant cinematography makes Aligarh a great watch.

Aligarh, a very brave and intense film by Hansal Mehta, will keep you glued to the screen. It talks about every individual’s right to live, respecting one’s privacy. It no way asks you to support LGBT, but definitely asks one to have compassion towards them, and to respect their constitutional rights as human beings. Aligarh is a masterpiece, which has the perfect synchronization of brilliant performances, direction, writing, editing, cinematography and music.

Rating : 4.5 / 5 (Very Good+)