I haven’t watched two of Hansal Mehta’s most recent films: Shahid and Citylights. I wanted to watch Aligarh because of its story and the topic it focuses upon. The Delhi High Court had decriminalised homosexuality in July of 2009. The Supreme Court re-criminalised it in December of 2013. The controversy surrounding it made me a little hesitant about reviewing Aligarh but what the hell! I feel that a person should have the freedom to choose his/her own sexual preference. I know people who will disagree but I stand firm on this. The problem is that things tend to go a bit too deep when it comes to religion and society. In any case, both influence a person’s thought process. But does either really need to interfere where a person’s personal life is concerned? I don’t think so. After all: Live and Let Live, right?
Aligarh brings forth a story not about a homosexual man, but about how the tag diminished his image. Professor S.R. Siras, a Marathi-teaching professor at the Aligarh Muslim University is a homosexual. Two people barge into his house and video-tape intimate moments between Siras and a rickshaw-puller in February 2010. Siras is suspended from the University. His accommodation is taken away. A large number of people come out to support him. An enthusiastic journalist from Delhi, Deepu Sebastian, is keen on writing a story about the incident. He meets Siras a few times and the duo develop a friendly bond over the course of the film. Siras’ case is taken up in Allahabad High Court. The judge rules in his favour on April 1st 2010. Six days later, he is found dead in his apartment in Aligarh. The order revoking his suspension reaches the University the next day. The Uttar Pradesh Police ruleit to be a case of murder and the case is registered but subsequently closed since substantial evidence cannot be found.
- DIRECTION: Hansal Mehta, take a bow! Superb direction. Mehta adds no melodramatic moments to the film and manages to keep the viewer engaged despite some lagging moments. The story, from Mehta’s perspective, is about the loneliness of the protagonist and not his sexuality. The film could have collapsed in many a place but there are no extravagant scenes and that keeps the film as natural as possible. Mehta ensures that just because some characters in the film are homosexual doesn’t mean that they’ll be funnily dressed. And since Aligarh is on a larger commercial scale than an Onir, people will notice the sensitive portrayal of a community whom Bollywood seems to be intent on portraying as clowns!
- STORY/SCREENPLAY: Ishani Banerjee and Apurva Asrani do a good job with the story. The plot has the ability to pack a hard punch with a great story and some interesting characters but is let down by Asrani’s screenplay, which stretches itself a bit too much. The non-linear aspect of screenplay may also put you off. The drawback was the length of some of the scenes and the film would’ve been much better with around ten-fifteen minutes snipped off.
- CINEMATOGRAPHY: Don’t expect aerial shots, moving shots or anything fancy. Satya Nagpaul’s cameras capture the film in a beautiful manner. The cameras stay static for a large part of the film, in a way portraying the slow-moving Siras. In the scenes with journo Deepu Sebastian, there are a few wide-angle shots and hand-held shots and the camera moves a lot more, much like the youthful pace of Sebastian.
- PERFORMANCES: If the supporting cast deliver weak performances, the film cannot work. Try imagining Bridge of Spies without Mark Ryllance. Something like that. Dilnaz Irani is very good in her brief role. Sukhesh Arora too does a good job. Ashish Vidyarthi steals the thunder of the rest of the supporting cast with a great performance as Siras’ lawyer. He delivers in one particular scene when he shuts up his opponent in court. Rajkummar Rao is an incredible actor and Aligarh takes him closer to becoming the Manoj Bajpayee of his generation. He portrays a very realistic journalist and adds a lot of youthful exuberance to his performance. People between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five should be able to relate to him quite easily. He manages to get the Malayali-accented Hindi right too. Manoj Bajpayee delivers one of his career-best performances as Professor Siras. He transforms into the character easily and is very believable. He doesn’t talk a lot but his expressions bring out a lot of the character’s loneliness. He forces you to think of the injustice done to Siras with his performance! Also, he nails the Maharashtrian accent, especially words like ‘pen’. He deserves a huge round of applause for his performance. The chemistry between Rajkummar and Bajpayee is reminiscent of the Hanks-Ryllance combine in Bridge of Spies.
Aligarh is not a flawless film but its content and performances are far too engaging for one to think of the faulty aspects. It delivers a strong message about Section 377 and makes one question the mentioned law. There might not be too many films like Aligarh this year. Watch it!
My rating for Aligarh: 8/10
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Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao in one of the most beautiful scenes of the film.