Movie review: Aligarh

Aligarh is a powerful human drama that probes the life and death of a victim of institutional whimsicality.
Movie review: Aligarh
Movie review: Aligarh
Written by:

Director: Hansal Mehta 

Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi 

By Saibal Chatterjee 

In Hansal Mehta's deeply observant and intensely empathetic Aligarh, a university campus is the site for a bitter battle whose implications go far beyond the boundaries of the location and even the parameters of the issue in question: the rights of homosexuals.

In fact, Aligarh is more than a mere film: it is a heartfelt and universal plea on behalf of all those who, in response to ineffable inner urges, break out of spaces deigned to be mainstream by the majority, and end up paying a heavy price for their courage.

In its real-life protagonist, a professor hounded ruthlessly on account of his sexual orientation, the film presents a gentle, sensitive and dignified figure who finds himself up against people who possess none of those qualities.

This man is reminiscent of the tragic real-life hero of Mehta's National Award-winning film Shahid, human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi, who lost his life in the pursuit of justice for young Muslim men wrongly accused of acts of terror.

In Aligarh, the tables are turned and a member of another kind of minority is at the receiving end of inhuman moral policing at a premier Muslim centre of education.

The story that inspired Aligarh is that of Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, professor of Marathi at Aligarh Muslim University who was found dead in mysterious circumstances on April 8, 2010.

His demise had ended an ordeal that saw him being mercilessly victimised not only by the media, but also by an institution that he was proud to be a part of.

The screenplay, authored by the film's editor, Apurva M Asrani, does not point fingers at any individual or any group in particular.

It choses instead to paint a despairing portrait of a society that has no tolerance for those that are different, those that stray away from the straight and narrow.

The character of Siras, a poet who dreams in vain of a more just world, is essayed with such amazing finesse by Manoj Bajpayee that it becomes impossible to separate the role from the actor.

Bajpayee's diction, gait and body language are all in perfect sync with the turmoil raging in Siras' heart, with every twitch of a muscle and every pause in the course of a sentence adding to the articulation of a sense of violated dignity.

Siras does have sympathisers in the university and outside it. He also has the option of going to court to seek a revocation of his suspension.

A lawyer (Ashish Vidyarthi) fights his case in Allahabad court with gusto and a young newspaper journo (Rajkummar Rao) extends a helping hand to the beleaguered professor. But his suffering can only intensify as the battle turns murkier.

Aligarh isn't just a cinematic blow on behalf of the rights of homosexuals in a notoriously conservative society where the might of the majority often undermines the needs of those that do not have numerical strength on their side.

It is a powerful human drama that probes the life and death of a victim of institutional whimsicality. And it does so exactly with the kind of non-judgemental approach that would like to see more of in the real world.

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