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Aligarh  : Sexuality & Campus Politics
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Friday, February 26, 2016
Drama
Hansal Mehta
Manoj Bajpai, Rajkummar Rao, Aashish Vidyarthi, Sumit Gulati, Dilnaz Irani

Add Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh to the growing list of true stories that are being dramatised by Hindi cinema to make an important statement.

 

Prof  Ramchandra Siras from  Maharashtra who heads the Linguistics Department, is the obvious odd man out in Aligarh University. He’s also single with his sexuality under scrutiny, making Siras the unacceptable outsider.

 

The deep-rooted resentment against him comes to the fore when a sting operation is conducted on him inside his own apartment. Ostensibly, he’s been filmed pants down with a rickshaw puller.

 

Other faculty members and the media are so conveniently nearby to catch the action that their collective role in the sting is quite suspect. Perhaps the rickshawala too, was a willing partner in what has the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy. Using Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises same-sex intimacy, Prof Siras is charged with immoral conduct and is ousted out of the University.

 

Siras does have friends. Like colleague Shridharan. Or lawyer Vijay Grover who fights against the invasion of Prof Siras’ privacy. Most of all, there’s intrepid young Keralite Deepu Sebastian whose reporter’s nose tells him that this story is more than just a sex scandal.

 

So when, just before a High Court verdict in his favour, Siras is found dead, the questions are more disturbing than his life itself.  

 

Why was it ruled as suicide? There wasn’t even a whiff of such an intention in his cheerful last telephonic conversation with his journalist-friend. He’d even hinted to Deepu that after retirement, he’d perhaps head for America where men like him could live with dignity. Therefore, how Prof Siras died will remain unanswered forever although why he had to die is not such an unresolvable puzzle.

 

Aligarh is not flawless cinema. There’s an unnecessary track to establish that Deepu is a heterosexual. Hansal Mehta likes his little sexual innuendoes about “Little Johnny” and “Jaago Mohan pyare...” And were selfies popular in 2010?   

 

But Aligarh is impactful cinema as it forces a revisit to antiquated laws. It would also be pertinent to note that mixing issues to play politics on the campus is not a 2016 development.  

 

Aligarh is equally compelling because of Manoj Bajpayee who makes a stellar Prof Siras. Watch him as he seeks solace in “Aapki nazron ne samjha”, particularly in the poignant line, “Ji hamein manzoor hai aapka ye faisla”, and this rates a repeat watch. Rajkummar Rao has a smaller and less nuanced role as Deepu Sebastian but once again, this actor doesn’t let you down in any scene.

 

For making an important cinematic statement and for outstanding competence in the acting department, Aligarh gets a 3* rating.  

 

Reviewed by
Bharathi S Pradhan

Senior Journalist & Author
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