When I reviewed the trailer of Aligarh, I wished the film should not reduce itself to activism and instead portray the life of Professor R. S. Siras in his own perspective, with all its nuances, underlining the medieval social prohibitions against sexual preferences of an individual.
And as it turned out, director Hansal Mehta has done complete justice to the film narrating the story explicitly, uninhibited by the prevalent prejudices.
While Shahid, the gripping tale of a lawyer against social injustices, was well received by the audience, Aligarh is a thought-provoking film that holds the viewers riveted till the last frame and, perhaps, jolt their conscience out of the entrenched stereotypes.
Aligarh is based on trials and tribulations of a Marathi professor, a true story that has been in the public glare for over seven years, widely covered by the media since the day (8 February, 2009) he was suspended from Aligarh Muslim University.
The film sets out, without wasting a moment, with a sting operation laid for the professor as a conspiracy to throw him out of the campus – the conspirators knew about his long affair with a rickshaw puller and set an easy trap to implicate him in a sex-scandal.
That follows his tortuous and lone battle for restoration of pride and status. However, the professor is found dead in mysterious conditions, just a day before his suspension was revoked.
Justice eludes him eventually: despite traces of poison found in his body, the police failed to track down the men behind his ‘murder’.
Professor Siras is a lonely man, far away from his homeland, deserted by his own family, someone who loves (and writes) poetry and enjoys teaching language to his students. His evenings are occupied by melodious songs of Lata Mangeshkar and sips of drink. Occasionally, a brisk rendezvous with his male partner lightened his soul.
Let me flatter team Aligarh here for an unforgettable song sequence, Aap Ki Nazaron Ne Samjha, that magnifies the image of the embattled professor.
Through the song, the camera revolves around him, capturing the swing of his emotions, while he attempts to hum it along seated in a chair, holding a drink in his hand, the other hand moving in the air to the tunes of the song, legs swaying around and tears rolling down the cheeks.
It was disheartening to see some empty chairs in the theatre on the first day of the show, but that reflects the inherent mindset of the people on LGBT issues, coupled with their reluctance to watch theme-based movies and the general penchant for a full entertainment show. (Hope, the parochial attitude may gradually peter out in years to come, and live-and-let-live mantra virtually prevails).
Even though the film is not centred around a newsroom, its depiction is highly cosmetic and far from convincing. The sexual encounter between Deepu and his female boss (Dilnaz Irani) seems nothing but fake in lack of a lead-up.
Further, the scene has been placed in contrast with professor’s lovemaking with his friend. (The director may have symbolically tried to give an equal leverage to sex between man-woman and man-man, or he may have sought to quickly gloss it over to avoid repugnance of some section of the audience).
Aligarh will be remembered for Manoj Bajpayee’s sterling show, the way he immersed himself in the character, slipping effortlessly into the role of a 62-year-old man (after all, acting is not only about rendering the bearings of a person, it’s more about illustrating the man in his entirety). With the details sketched dexterously, the dramatis personae slowly ingrains in the mind of the audience, and the actor emerges as an alter ego of the protagonist.
Rajkummar Rao, playing the role a Delhi-based journalist, continues to impress the audience with his intense performance as someone who doggedly pursues Professor Siras’s story and cajoles him into unwinding his emotions. Ashish Vidyarthi makes an overwhelming appearance as a lawyer of the professor, with his legal arguments in the court he actually brings much-wanted freshness to the film.
The movie, of course, is a must watch for its content and quality. Though it could have been more engaging because that is what draws the audience to the theatres and, in the end, benefits the filmmaker.
The author is a Delhi-based journalist