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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Aligarh 


An Unlikely Hero


The dominant theme of Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh is homophobia, but it also captures the ugliness, narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy of small town India; plus the total disregard for an individual’s privacy.

Prof Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) is persecuted because he is gay; if he was caught in bed with a woman, the behavior of the people baying for his blood would probably have been the same, or maybe, a little less virulent. (He was, in fact, accused of sexually harassing a woman). The problem is, as Siras himself points out, is that he is an outsider, a single man in the midst of families. Being gay—though he winces at the word— exacerbates his ‘otherness’.  A professor of Marathi in Aligarh Muslim University, is an oddity in that politically charged, macho environment. The AMU, which was a centre of learning and culture when it was established, has, like many educational institutes, been corroded by vested interests. (The result of this is evident in the current siege of another hallowed educational institution.)


 The life of a quiet and dignified professor is upended when two men barge into his home and film him with a rickshaw puller. He is suspended from the university, as students shout slogans and kick his effigy. A journalist, Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao) wants to do a story on the incident, as he can perceive that there is more to it than initial reports let on.

He gains the trust of Siras and a warm friendship develops between them. Siras challenges his suspension in court (Ashish Vidyarthi plays his lawyer) and wins, but he is found dead a few days later—maybe suicide, more likely murder.

Mehta and his writer, Apurva Asrani pick this forgotten piece of news reportage and make a film that stands for the right to privacy, challenges existing perceptions about gays often propagated by Bollywood movies-- Siras is not a limp-wristed, mincing caricature, but a man who carries his dignity and sense of melancholy with him like a security blanket. To violate the privacy of such a man seems doubly monstrous.

Aligarh has it loud and light moments, but it is more effective precisely because it does not shout and rant.  Manoj Bajpayee’s performance is a master class in acting; even though Rao has a tough time keeping up, he plays the hyper-energetic young journalist with a lot of charm. The film is worth supporting, particularly because the times call for compassion and tolerance. 

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