I am gay, like Dr. Siras. I aspire to be an academic, the way Dr. Siras was. In these two ways, the protagonist of Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh connects with me. The movie is based on a real incident in 2010 when Dr. Srinivas Siras, a professor, was suspended from his university after he was videotaped having sex with a man. That this incident was more a violation of privacy than a sex scandal is a message that resonates strongly throughout the narrative of Aligarh.
Set in a town in Uttar Pradesh, Aligarh is the story of Srinivas Siras (Manoj Bajpayee). Siras is a professor of Marathi in Aligarh University. In a city unfamiliar with his language of expertise and away from his family, he feels left out. On a fateful night in 2010, two newspersons barge into his house and shoot a video of him making out with Irfan, a rickshaw-puller. He is suspended from the university, and the ‘scandal’ makes it to the newspapers. Deepu Sebastien (Rajkummar Rao), a journalist in Delhi, is intrigued by the incident and begins to explore the case. What follows is a disturbing sequence of events—murky university politics, eviction from his quarters and multiple houses after that, hostility from neighbours and doctors, and a legal battle. As time passes, Deepu forges a bond with Dr. Siras.
Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of Siras bears a strong resemblance to the real-life Siras, as he was seen in TV interviews in 2010. The fear each time he says “Kaun?” (“Who is it?”), his awkwardness when Deepu tries to hug him, the joy when he sings a Marathi song at a party, and his innocence during his TV interview—Manoj Bajpayee is effortless through it all. If Gangs of Wasseypur was a milestone for his career, Manoj’s performance in Aligarh is on par. While throughout the movie you feel that Deepu’s character is peripheral and nearly one-dimensional, he bounces back in the last scene, and how. Rajkummar’s Deepu steals your heart there. Ashish Vidyarthi is good as Siras’s lawyer.
The ‘incident’ between Siras and Irfan appears multiple times in the narrative—each time giving more details. So while the opening sequence shows the incident from outside the building, with every repetition, the viewer goes deeper inside Siras’s house—giving it a disturbing sense of invading his privacy. Deepu’s making out with a woman outdoors juxtaposed with Siras’ making out with a man indoors hits the nail on its head. You are pained to see how Siras becomes sceptical of visitors and begins locking his doors with near-apprehension. And while you are seeing Siras’ ordeal, you see Deepu getting flustered when his house owner uses his rented room to run tuition classes. The parallels between the tuition class incident and Siras’ episode make you realize the magnitude of the latter, even more intensely.
In terms of dialogues, two scenes stand out—the scene where the lawyers meet Siras for the first time and the boat scene between Siras and Deepu. In the first, Siras’ reluctance to a gay identity is very interesting. The locations have a strong feel of a North Indian town, and the cinematography is excellent.
What works - Manoj Bajpayee. The story and the screenplay, Manoj Bajpayee. Rajkummar Rao in the climax. And Manoj Bajpayee.
What does not work - The verdict of Siras’ court case appears abruptly. In addition, there are other minor issues: Manoj Bajpayee makes enunciation errors in some Marathi words, the movie ends with a note to the tune of ‘On 12th December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the Delhi HC judgment’ – the correct date is ‘11th December 2013’ and Deepu’s concern for Dr. Siras’ incident, since the beginning, looks slightly unconvincing.
Aligarh starts from a scandal involving a homosexual person, takes you through notions of private space, and ends with a hard-hitting climax. This movie makes a strong case for how LGBT rights are human rights. Kudos to Hansal Mehta and team for a masterpiece that is Aligarh!
Name of the film: Aligarh
Director: Hansal Mehta
Aditya Joshi is a research student in computer science. He identifies as a gay man. He organizes events for Saathi, IIT Bombay’s on-campus LGBTQ group, since 2014. In his free time, he writes, acts and drinks beer.
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