'Aligarh' review: Searing and sensitive!
'Aligarh' review: Searing and sensitive!
By: Sonia Chopra
Wednesday 24 February 2016
Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi
The film is several things at once - a courtroom drama, a human-interest story, a spine-chilling account of homophobia, a comment on workplace politics, and the triumph of a journalist's spirit.
Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) is the subject of all of the above in this extraordinary tale. Siras prides himself on his special status - that of being the only Marathi professor at the Aligarh University. He's also heading the linguistics department, a fact that doesn't sit well with those who consider him an outsider in many ways. One of the reasons being his sexual orientation.
The film opens with the fateful night when Prof. Siras and his male companion are together. Two armed intruders enter the home attacking them and filming their private moment. Just then, out of nowhere, Prof Siras's colleagues appear at the home, leading to the professor being utterly embarrassed and humiliated. The next step in this systematic targeting is the Professor's dismissal from service, electricity cut at his house, and orders to evict the premises within a week.
Students stand in support for the Professor, but the University officials are adamant. Two things happen then - a reporter Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao) at the bottom rung of his organization takes an interest in the story and meets Siras. Second, encouraged by supporters, Siras takes the battle to the courtroom.
Eventually, an interesting equation develops between the journalist and the professor. They share laughter and tears and tales of their lives. The court-case of Professor Siras versus Aligarh University continues against the backdrop of Section 377 (criminalizing homosexuality) being squashed by the courts and then again reinstated by the Supreme Court.
Director Hansal Mehta, with writers Apurva Asrani and Ishani Banerjee, focuses on several issues through this tale based on a real incident. First there's the homophobia, where a homosexual sexual act is described as unnatural and unacceptable. Then there's the issue of privacy that stems from the first point, where a homosexual person is not considered worthy of even basic privacy. The issue of internal politics, where people turn unbelievably cruel out of insecurity. And the decaying of an institution that was once a "nursery for freedom fighters".
The scene where Deepu is making out with his female senior, while Siras is in bed with his lover depicts what the film is trying to say - that love and lust don't come in neatly wrapped packages and cannot be shackled.
A few unanswered questions do remain. For example, while it is mentioned in the film that Siras is a victim of sabotage, it is not clear why. If it was professional rivalry, as it is indeed suggested, why did his detractors take such an extreme step, especially when he was on the brink of retiring in a few months?
Mehta chooses to portray Professor Siras as a nondescript person. The kind that exists without asking for much attention, and are content doing their job and leading a modest lifestyle. Siras is happy in his home, nursing a drink after a hard day's work, listening to old Hindi songs. He is alarmingly detached from the court proceedings choosing a catnap while the lawyers are arguing full-throttle and describes the courtroom proceedings as "boring".
He is charming in the way his English breaks to reveal flaws, as he calls someone "a gay" and confesses that the English translation to his book of Marathi poems was "too much badly done".
Manoj Bajpayee plays Professor Siras masterfully, with the character's unhurried stance and loneliness wrapped around him like a shroud. A long scene that simply focuses on Siras enjoying a Lata Mangeshkar song, a drink in one hand, the other hand in the air, is priceless. Bajpayee is stellar throughout the movie, bringing out the character's slow degeneration in this unfortunate and uncalled for situation.
Rajkummar Rao as the sprightly, ambitious journalist, eager to take the elevator to success is just as remarkable.
Mehta's sure-footed storytelling is enhanced by the technical finesse, from the cinematography and editing, to the production design and music.
Watch the film to experience a story that is as searing as it is sensitive. Most crucially, the film ensures that the absurdity of a law criminalizing homosexuality hits home harder than ever.
Rating: 3.5 stars