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RainbowMan: Let’s Send ‘Aligarh’ to the Oscars Already

‘Aligarh’ is a film that’s relevant for all times, writes Harish Iyer

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Entertainment
5 min read
A poster of Hansal Mehta’s film <i>Aligarh</i>

How often do you find someone lost  and still content with himself? How often do you see someone despised by the world, yet not at war with it?… how many times have you met a person who for the world is a lonely man, but has a world of music and literature with him for company? I just met someone like that. His name is Ramchandra Siras. He hails from the land the Hindu right wing group, RSS, calls home. Yet he lives in Aligarh, which is Muslim dominated. A connoisseur of Marathi literature, he teaches the language at Aligarh Muslim University. One way of looking at him would be to brand him as a man of many paradoxes, the other would be to look at him as a champion who is able to maintain his identity in a world that wants him to be a carbon copy.

Manoj Bajpayee as Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras in <i>Aligarh</i>
Manoj Bajpayee as Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras in Aligarh

The film Aligarh that peeps into the life of Ramchandra Siras, who was a common man, just as common as the 60-year-old conservative Marathi man who you meet in every street of Bombay… no one would notice anything special about him.  There is also nothing really uncommon about him being an old gay man.

As a gay man, I can vouch that there are many old gay men, who I know, who live closed closeted lives, claustrophobic even, but  it is irrefutable that there are many. The film is a commentary on the way we treat the ones who are lonely and different.  This film is not a gay film. It is a film that speaks about the different, the ones we consider unequal, the ones we are indifferent towards… this film is a cinematic commentary on how we treat minorities.
Kangana Ranaut with filmmaker Hansal Mehta at a screening of <i>Aligarh </i>(Photo: Yogen Shah)
Kangana Ranaut with filmmaker Hansal Mehta at a screening of Aligarh (Photo: Yogen Shah)

Aligarh is a film set in time but yet is relevant for all times.  The film is a showcase of indifference and disregard shown towards people who are different. A rickshaw puller has sex with his lover who is a professor in the confines of the professor’s bedroom. Both are adults.  They get busted by a group of professors and media channels. That’s exactly the problem with 377. Section 377 gives impetus to such anti-social elements. I hope you understand that by anti-social I mean - the ones who peep into the bedrooms of consenting adults.  Section 377 gives a boost to the habit of voyeurism. Things have not changed now. Section 377 has given rise to people who meddle with the lives of LGBT persons putting them in the puddle of helplessness.

Exactly as shown in the film, a nexus exists between people who pose as LGBT, gain the confidence of gay or bisexual men and the people who barge in when they are making love to extort money. The law is used as a threat.

As mentioned here, it’s another version of the “honey trap”. Section 377, besides being a potential threat to the lives of gay people, this also puts the lives of straight men at risk. There are many of cases filed by wives on their husbands. It is considered as a ground for divorce.  Not so long back a techie who was cheating on his wife with a man was caught on spy camera. The same was used as evidence to book him under Section 377.

As a feminist, I understand that the woman deserves divorce and a sense of closure… but one needs to see how it is justified to have the man behind bars for the rest of his life because he cheated on her. If at all he needs to be punished, in an equal society, the quantum of punishment should be just as much as he would have got  for cheating on his wife with another woman.
Hansal Mehta’s <i>Aligarh </i>premiered at the MAMI Festival last year
Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh premiered at the MAMI Festival last year

That’s the problem. We do not live in an equal society. Till we have Section 377 in its original form, we really don’t.  The film Aligarh makes small references to Prof Siras’ wife. She seemed to be a fleeting reference. In real life though, reports suggest that she emerged to stake claim on his property, post his death. Was that her redemption for getting married to him? Or was she just vicious? Maybe this could be her point of view could be made into a new film by itself? What do we call it… Nagpur?

Coming back to Aligarh – the film, Manoj stumps you completely. He is invisible. The fact is that you will not see Manoj Bajpayee in any frame. Never in the past has a character been depicted to such perfection that you see no trace of the actor in the film, you only see the character he portrays.

Speaking about Rajkummar Rao, well, this cute boy-next-door even sports a Malayalee accent when he plays the character of a journalist called Deepu Sebastian.  Of the many taboos this film breaks, it also highlights that not all Mallus speak Mallu-ized Hindi.

Rajkummar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee in <i>Aligarh&nbsp;</i>
Rajkummar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh 

The editing and the screenplay is just too perfect. The juxtaposition of some scenes in the film that are just wow. Like for instance, the scene where Deepu makes out with his lady editor on a wide open terrace, which is followed by a scene of Professor Siras making out with the rickshaw puller in the confines of his bedroom, gave me goosebumps and cinematic orgasms.

The scene where Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha... is played, leaves you spell bound. The face of Professor Siras is so compelling yet painful that it leaves you overwhelmed – you would want the song to end and yet you would want to see the Siras enjoying the complete song.

Director Hansal Mehta and Apurva Asrani’s understanding of the character is as perfect as the depiction of it by everyone.  I was invited to a special screening of the film by Apurva, and the first thing I did after getting out of the screening was to wrap him up with a warm embrace followed by Manoj and Hansal.

Director Hansal Mehta, Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao at a promotional event of <i>Aligarh </i>(Photo: Yogen Shah)
Director Hansal Mehta, Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao at a promotional event of Aligarh (Photo: Yogen Shah)
The only hitch I have with Aligarh is that gives an impression that homosexuality is illegal, but I am also willing to understand that “sex against the order of nature”, “homosexual sexual acts” seem like unfriendly legal lexicon with respect to cinema. So, here I make it clear, homosexuality is not illegal, having non-penovaginal sex is.

This film is a classic. There is not a single element in the film that is not praiseworthy. Truly, this is the film that India needs to send to the Oscars. Let’s trend #SendAligarhToTheOscars. Truly, madly, deeply – I urge you – do yourself a favour - this is a film that each and everyone should see.

(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘Rainbow Man’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint.)

(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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