By Richa Sharma
On 4th October 2015 at the 20th Busan International Film Festival, one movie made it’s virgin screening and it received a standing ovation. But it took nearly five months for this movie to reach the commercial cinema, after tirade through the bureaucratic obstacles of politics, censorship, and hushed homophobia. Finally released in cinemas on 26th February 2016, Aligarh is a biographical drama based on the life of Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras – the Indian linguist, author and Marathi professor at Aligarh Muslim University, who suffered the fate of many in the Indian LGBT community. The movie is directed by a very inspired Hansal Mehta.
The movie starts with a scene where the lights go on and off, building curiosity about all that is beyond the line of sight. The story of the gay Professor progresses as he is suspended for violating a “moral” code – (allegedly) having sex with a rickshaw-puller in the university premises, as recorded in a local news channel’s video.
The corrupt politics among the AMU departments surfaces as Siras is forced out of the campus, facing societal rejection and always fearing the worst. When his story reaches the Delhi-based journalist Deepu Sebastian, who finds “human interest” in his story as his right to privacy had been violated, it draws national attention. 30,000 people come together, signing a petition against the AMU. Ultimately, Siras seeks justice based on the amendment of Section 377. The movie ends with Sebastian’s existential thought and Siras found dead under suspicious circumstances.
Hansal Mehta casts Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkumar Rao in the lead roles. One should definitely watch the movie for appreciating Manoj Bajpayee’s acting as the protagonist Ramachandra Siras. The thin line between real and reel seems to be drawn with an invisible ink as Manoj Bajpayee brings out the minute details of the character.
Highlighting the atrocities faced by the gay in our homophobic society, the movie gets a louder round of applause at each of the dialogues written by Siras: “Poetry is not about words, but pauses and silences. It has different interpretations at different times of life.”
The movie has a lot to say apart from gay rights. It also illustrates how using the right or wrong language can make or break. “It is not ‘a gay’ but ‘being’ gay” This comment speaks a lot more than we think it does. You are “a man” or “a woman” but not “a gay”. Being gay isn’t a different gender altogether. Language can be tricky, that’s another message this movie hints at.
Deepu Sebastian, the trainee journalist shows a different side of media which hardly exists. The audience will question whether it’s right for the typical irresponsible media to encroach on what someone does within the confines of their house. Sebastian answers this by showing how being genuine makes a difference in news reporting. Rajkumar Rao – who enacts Sebastian’s role – had a short role but it left a mark.
Censor Board, what was the necessity of the A rating for everything? We speak so much about sex education then why not make everybody aware of different sexual preferences? How many channels promote Aligarh? Despite using real names of characters and the film being based on a real life incident, it had to have a disclaimer.
Deepu Sebastian’s existentialism and self-discovery are not very well portrayed. The message is very detached and abrupt. It could have been conveyed in a much better way!
In the movie, the scenes when Siras listens to Lata Mangeshkar’s songs are dragged way too much than needed. Come on, just when we thought Bollywood was learning!
The attempt at humor with the “put the pump on” scenes doesn’t quite fly. Even when Siras is found sleeping in the courtroom it did not make me laugh, by then even I wanted to do the same.
If you’re expecting a bold and explicit fight for gay rights and the protest against discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, this movie may disappoint. It has broken stereotypes but in a very subtle way, playing it very safe. Only by the end of the movie would you feel some essence of fight for gay rights.
VERDICT: A good movie, overall. If you are one of those who appreciate the art of acting and like a good story on a power subject then Aligarh is for you. It’s among the firsts in Bollywood breaking several taboos. Manoj Bajpayee’s view of the character of Siras is definitely a treat to watch. In several of his interviews since the release, he has been seen as very proud of the role.
However, if you are one of those who prefer Rohit Shetty over Prakash Jha, then the movie may not be your cup of masala chai.