“Your generation has made love sound like a dirty word.”
These words, spoken by S.R. Siras (played by Manoj Bajpai), define Aligarh. Aligarh takes up a serious social issue and gives it the treatment it deserves.
Section 377 of the Indian constitution criminalises homosexuality and gives the univeristy a chance to fire Siras just on the basis of what he does in his own bedroom.
Aligarh, is based on the real-life tale of Aligarh Muslim University Professor S.R. Siras, who was ostracisized by the university because of his sexual orientation. He loses his professorship when he is forcibly filmed in bed with his male partner by two media men who barge into his home.
The films is set in 2009 when the Delhi High Court declared section 377 unconstitutional. The verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Aligarh is tale of Siras and his fight against the university to restore his dignity and his job.
Rajkumar Rao plays the role of Deepu, a reporter who considers the university’s spying on Siras unfair and illegal.
Manoj Bajpai plays the role of the aging and lonely professor who only has his Royal Stag and Lata Mangeshkar songs for company, with panache. He does not like the label of being ‘gay’ and does not feel it does justice to his being. His life and his gentle soul along with his dignity and professional rights are pervaded when he is forcibly filmed in bed with a male partner. The gentle professor is subject to prejudices and intolerance of our society for a change in the norm.
Aligarh is not the typical Bollywood masala movie. It makes you sit down and takes notice.
The cinematography is something they have worked hard on. Every scene is authetic and the life of a university professor is portrayed realistically. The sefttings are worked hard on, right from the dullness of the court to the university surroundings.
The solid storyline does not need a break and therefore there are no songs in the movie. Manoj Bajpai shines out throughout the movie as the subdued, albeit courageous professor. Rajkumar Rao is the perfect suppoorting actor as reporter Deepu Sebastian.
Hansal Mehta’s sublety and handling is brilliant, especially in a scene where he places a straight intimacy between Deepu and his boss alongside a scene showing the intimacy between Manoj Bajpai and his male friend. Is there any difference? Can love be immoral? That, he leaves for teh audience to figure out. The subject matter has definitely been given the sentitivity needed.
Aligarh is the story of prejudices which are taken to be the norm and cause upheavels to an individual’s right to life. It perfectly captures a rigid society and its treatment of dissent. It raises the fundamental question of how the ‘society’s rights’ i.e. our collective prejudice is bearing down on individuals.
It is not perfect. Some shortcomings are there. The first half of the movie is more slow-paced than it should be. Manoj Bajpayee doesn’t look 64 years old. But, it is a persistent attempt to make people think about issues rather than preach them. Hansal knows the Indian audience and gives a due credit to their intelligence rather athn forcing things on them.
Is it the state’s responsibility to see what people do in their bedrooms?