Aligarh | Sensitive yet Powerful | Prejudice and Homosexuality

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It was 25th June 2015 when Supreme Court of the United States ruled favor in to make Same Sex Marriage a right, the US erupted in Celebration. Human right organization claimed this to be a major win. According to News Reports Facebook reported to more than 26 Million people changing their profile pictures throughout the world. It is possible that the reader might have used that tricolor filter too.

For citizens of the USA, this was a way of celebration, for showing they stand united in a cause. For many other counties like India though, this had another Significant meaning. This was a chance to show a support and a way to protest for Indians.

It was in 2013, when Supreme Court of  India withheld the amendment of Section 377 of Indian Penal Code which was passed in 2009. Homosexuality in India was once more a crime.

So when Professor Siras (portrayed by Manoj Bajpayee) in Aligarh says with brimming eyes in a phone call, that he might go and live in USA after retirement, at least he would get respected as a Human there. You can feel his emotions and that’s the striking power of Aligarh.

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Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh

Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh was released to world wide critical acclaim at a time when in February 2016, the debate on Section 377 was reopened by Court. This actually worked well for the movie, because of these issues, the movie transforms in to an even more powerful Drama.

Just a few days back, I wrote an article about Philadelphia (1993) on AIDS and Homosexuality-link below-, the parallels between two individual original movies are striking. Both in their  essence are court room dramas commenting on the society of their time. Both involves a prejudiced and discriminated individual fighting for his rights. On the one hand there is Tom Hanks in Philadelphia who portrays a lawyer who was fired from a leading law firm because he had AIDS, with homosexuality running as a subtext beneath it. And on the other hand is Manoj Bajpayee’s Professor Siras who gets suspended from Aligarh University when he is caught suspiciously in his bed with another man.

Leaving aside the politics and the ethics involved in each case, we are sure that both character portray someone who has been discriminated. It shows the pain of not being accepted in society and being seen down upon by the rest of the world. The essence of prejudice in the society is shown perfectly in both the movies. Rest assured, if somehow Tom Hanks’s and Bajpayee’s character found themselves in the same room, they would be able to find their own self in each other.

Another great issue tackled in Aligarh is Politics running beneath the innocent facade of Institutes. Petty politics in Aligarh University leads to the ultimate destruction of Professor Siras’s life. Hansal Mehta has directed the movie and tackles the real life story with poignancy and elegance unmatched this year. He brings out the best in every character in Aligarh. Shooting in real life locations and bringing in the viewer to the streets of Aligarh, Hansal Mehta portrays Professor Siras’s life with brilliance. Hansal Mehta in the two hour biopic, touches upon many topics and works on the viewer’s minds.

Directors these days rarely use long shots and panning as narration. First of all they are hard to achieve and sometimes decrease the pace of the narrative. The movie Aligarh starts as a long shot showing Professor Siras arriving with his partner, the rickshaw driver. Followed by the reporters arriving with the camera to shoot the scandal. Another example is when Professor Siras sits at his home listening to Lata Mangeshkar through his cassette player, the camera rests on Manoj Bajpayee’s face for a long duration, bringing us as a viewer in close proximity to the actors and to the story. Things like these make Hansal Mehta a great director and Aligarh an even better movie.

Manoj Bajpayee gives the career best performance in Aligarh and also the year’s best performance yet. He picks up the character of Profesoor Siras and sets himself to the Character to the spine.

As Manoj Bajpayee’s Professor Siras remarks while discussing about poetry with Deepu the reporter (portrayed by Rajkumar Rao), “You are trying to find poetry in the wrong place, Poetry is not found in words, it is found in the middle of words, in the right ‘pauses’ and ‘stops’”

It is in the not so subtle, seemingly unimportant scenes- like him humming together while listening to Lata Mageshkar or sleeping in the court room- where we find the brilliance of Bajpayee’s acting. professor Siras’s character is very hard to act and he nails it down like a champion. Certainly the best acting I have seen this year, yet.

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Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh

Rajkumar Rao is a young journalist(Deepu) in the movie who is very curious and hungry for a story. Sadly these kind of journalists are very rare in the real world. His character is not showy but he transforms the chacracter in to something even better. He is extremely passionate and excited,   his body language speaks for itself and interaction with the poet is great to watch.

But the thing that amazed me and which is also the best thing about the movie was the gentle bond that Deepu and Siras forms. Professor Siras sort of take over as a father figure of Deepu. This subtext works well within the story and helps elevate the emotions running in the script. As we are told in a small conversation, Deepu and his Father do not get along well and Deepu have left his home because of that, so when in the end Professor Siras remarks Deepu as being a good boy. You can feel the pride and heartbreak pouring through the screen. Such is the quality of gentle father-son relationship between them.

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Rajkumar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh

The director steps away from the general stereo types of homosexuals prevalent in Bollywood and shines a light on the real human side of them. He destroys the stereotypes while managing in providing a character which is afraid of the society and thus holds a mirror to ourselves.

I have always thought that a ‘silver screen’, a theater can be thought of a mirror, which can show the real truth hidden behind our well polished facade. Society has always been prejudiced to minority and still is. Movies like Aligarh are the mirrors which show us who we are and ask us to change our ways or else we might destroy a community.

 Read more about Philadelphia : Homosexuality and AIDS click here

 For being lost in the world of movie check out Catalog for more posts

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