Movie Review: ‘Aligarh’, a Fresh Take on Battle Against Homophobia

‘Aligarh’ tells the real story of a professor who was charged for being a homosexual and suspended.

3 min read
Manoj Bajpayee in <i>Aligarh. </i>(Photo: Facebook/<a href=";theater">Aligarh</a>)

It seems surreal.

We are so used to watching an unrelenting Kya Kool Hain Hum 3 one week, followed by a Mastizaade in the next, that too without anaesthetics. For tormented souls like us, to have Neerja succeeded by Aligarh is nothing short of an orgasmic pleasure!

Aligarh is an assiduously made piece of brilliance. It makes for powerful viewing, not just because of the skill of director Hansal Mehta and screenplay writer Apurva Asrani, but also the topic that it explores.

Professor Siras, the head of the Linguistics department at the Aligarh University was charged with homosexuality and suspended by a university he served devoutly for decades.

The year is 2010. The Delhi High Court’s ruling of de-criminalising homosexuality notwithstanding, citing “morality” and “ethics” the university denied him his fundamental right to privacy and dignity. “What business do neighbours have to peep into someone else’s bedroom?” is a question put up by the lawyer defending Prof Siras in court.

Can one person’s morality impinge into another person’s fundamental right? The film shines and puts in perspective the homophobic nature of the society in its determined eagerness to raise questions and expose the hypocrisy.

Now, I went in to watch Aligarh to see Manoj Bajpayee in action, but he evaporates. There is no Manoj Bajpayee in this film, all you see is Prof Siras.

He is so good that he becomes his character. It is the kind of role that defines an actor. The soft spoken, shy man we observe with drooping shoulders and kind eyes.

In a particular scene, Lata Mangeshkar’s mellifluous voice fills the room, while in one corner sits Prof Siras sipping his drink fully immersed in the hypnotic tune.

His hands move gracefully to the lilting sound, his eyes shut, the weariness slowly giving way to sublime happiness as he taps his feet to the beats. It’s like the music stirred something in his soul.

Prof Siras is in trance which is broken by a sudden rude knock at the door. This isn’t the first time Prof Siras’s private tender moments lie asunder by the intruding disruption and noise.

(Photo: Facebook/<a href=";theater">Aligarh</a>)
(Photo: Facebook/Aligarh)

Prof Siras spends a lot of time shutting doors. He has three locks on his door, carefully shuts every window before he goes off to sleep, we see him most comfortable in the four walls of his small room.

Symbolically and metaphorically the outside words keeps forcing itself in to his small nest. His tiny room is a safe sanctuary he doggedly wants to preserve, a space he can call his own and a territory that, more often than not, becomes a battlefield between him and the world that seeks to deny him his existence.

Sympathetic to his plight and helping him with legal aid is a young journalist, Dipu Samuels. Rajkumar Rao brings in effervescence and honesty that makes him remarkable to watch.

The performances no doubt constitute the soul of the film, but it’s to the credit of Hansal Mehta and Apurva Asrani that they translate so beautifully on screen. The flashbacks are deployed to stunning effect. Prof Siras’s story isn’t just a fight for gay rights but a triumph of conviction and spirit and for that it is a must watch.

I’ll give it 4.5/5 QUINTS.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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