October 21 2015
Screened at the London Film Festival (October 7-18) and all set to open the Jio MAMI Mumbai Festival next week (October 29), our reviewer looks at an an intelligent and poignant new film that examines attitudes towards homosexual behaviour in India…
By Suman Bhuchar
BASED on the real life story of Professor Shriniwas Ramchandra Siras, director Hansal Mehta (pictured below) has opened up a window into life in small town India, where if you stand out in any way, you become a target. The situation becomes yet more exacerbated when the protagonist in question happens to be gay.
A quiet unassuming professor, Siras (sensitively played by Manoj Bajpayee) finds his world turned upside down when a sting operation by his college finds him in a compromising position with his rickshaw boy lover and he is suspended from his college.
What is at play here? Among other things, Indian language politics i.e, a non-Urdu speaking person is chair of Marathi at the prestigious Aligarh University or the fact that he is a homosexual man? It’s not as black and white as it might seem on paper.
A nuanced script by Apurv Asrani, best known as a film editor – who not only explores the homophobia that exists in India — but also relationships in the workplace, through the figure of an ambitious young reporter, Deepu (Rajkummar Rao) of a national daily who decides to follow the story.
Everything is keenly observed by the film-maker– the scenes of the house where the professor lives, the reactions of his colleagues, the professor’s choice of wardrobe, the way he carries his man bag, not to mention his own prejudices about refusing to eat food which has been touched by his meat-eating acquaintance (an allusion to his own high-caste Brahmin upbringing).
Mehta highlights the complexities of the character because our professor is no raging queen and when suddenly he is thrust into the media glare and his personal life is played out in court, he has the strength to deal with it, despite being vilified at every juncture.
Bajpayee has really got under the skin of his character in this delicately modulated role, and there is even a discussion on how inadequate the English language is at describing emotions between two men – as the romantic professor outlines in his many conversations with the journalist. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film wins Manoj Bajpayee several awards.
ACV rating: **** (out of five)
Picture: Deepu (Rajkummar Rao) and Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee)
- 17th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, October 29-November 5th in Mumbai. ‘Aligarh’ opens the festival. More info: http://www.mumbaifilmfestival.com/
- Previously interview director Hansal Mehta at the London Film Festival
Old India Vs New India http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/london-film-festival-2015-aligarh-old-india-vs-new-india/