Aligarh review: It is a pleasure to see Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao interact

Aligarh review: Manoj Bajpayee makes of Siras a man whose bewildered fragility is up for examination, and whose gentleness demands understanding and compassion.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Updated: February 27, 2016 12:40 pm
Aligarh, Aligarh movie review, Aligarh review, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao Aligarh review: Manoj Bajpayee makes of Siras a man whose bewildered fragility is up for examination, and whose gentleness demands understanding and compassion. There are initial moments where you can see Bajpayee trying. And then he becomes Siras.

An elderly professor at one of India’s once-of the most prestigious centres of higher learning is hounded out – of his job, and his humble abode — because of his sexual orientation. What happens to him makes up Hansal Mehta’s ‘Aligarh’. It is a film both timely and telling, because of what it is about, and how it is told.

Queer characters are not characters who just happen to be queer in most Bollywood movies. They are stereotypes sent up for sniggers (with the notable exception of a few of Onir’s films, ‘My Brother Nikhil’, and ‘I Am’ ; Karan Johar’s segment in ‘Bombay Talkies’). They mince rather than walk. They dangle their wrists. They are there to be mocked at.

Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) is getting on in years. As befits a teacher and author, he is a man of letters. He likes poetry. He likes a glass or two of the good stuff when the day is ending. Above all he is alone, sharing his loneliness with Lata Mangeshkar’s soulful songs, and occasionally, a tryst with another human who just happens to be of the same sex.

Also read: ‘Aligarh’ is a portrait of loneliness: Hansal Mehta

Deepu (Rajkummar Rao) is the Delhi-based reporter of a national daily who stumbles upon the Siras ‘story’ in a local Aligarh paper, and pursues it with his photographer colleague Tashi (Gulati). (Full disclosure: Deepu Sebastian Edmond, on whom Rao’s reporter is based, was with the Indian Express when the story broke; photojournalist Tashi Tobgyal works with the paper).

Siras’ ‘case’ segues into the historic 2009 Delhi High Court judgement which decriminalized homosexuality, and is fought by a legal eagle (Ashish Vidyarthi) who places privacy in a bedroom beyond the ‘moral’ pale, and sneering guardians of ‘morality’. The hectoring tone of the public prosecutor in Allahabad is of a piece with the general castigation brought to bear upon the LGBT community, and Siras’s exoneration feels like a victory, even if short-lived.

What is really interesting about Siras is his visible discomfort at being labelled ‘gay’; he’d rather not be labelled anything at all. That discomfiture tells us much more about him than anything else: he is of a generation which doesn’t go around sticking convenient bumper-stickers on people; for him they are just people, whether they dance, giving vent to their longing, in all-stag parties (one of the film’s most astonishingly poignant sequences), or whether they barge into his bedroom, video camera at the ready.

Manoj Bajpayee makes of Siras a man whose bewildered fragility is up for examination, and whose gentleness demands understanding and compassion. There are initial moments where you can see Bajpayee trying. And then he becomes Siras, greying hair curling at the temples, a worn suit to be donned when out of the house, an old blanket draped around the shoulders when home, fingers carving notes in the air as Lata’s voice fills his shabby living room. It is a fine performance, quiet and affecting.

Watch: Audience Reactions To Aligarh & Tere Bin Laden Dead Or Alive

And it carries ‘Aligarh’, especially when Manoj Bajpayee transcends himself, and gives us a man trying to deal with pain and humiliation with dignity. Rao’s youthful ebullience is an effective counter, his Malayalam- inflected Hindi just right. It is a pleasure to see these actors interact. The newsroom doesn’t feel as real as it should, though (for that, please watch ‘Spotlight’, which gets it spot-on): those portions are off-key. I also missed seeing Siras’s relationship with his students : or, seeing the perfunctory nature of the department of Marathi that Siras heads at the Aligarh Muslim University (everyone in the film carefully leaves out the ‘Muslim’ whenever the name comes up), did he have any to speak of? Did he leave his native Maharashtra to seek refuge in Aligarh?

But the film itself is bigger than these things. Like in his ‘Shahid’, Hansal Mehta and scriptwriter Apurva Asrani have come up with a lead character and a film which shines with authenticity and emotional heft, which leaves you thinking, and which says something we should all listen to, especially in these times when it has become more imperative than ever before: we can be different, but we are us.

Star cast of Aligarh: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi, Sumit Gulati, Dilnaz Irani
Director: Hansal Mehta

Three and a half stars

“For news updates, Follow us on Facebook, Twitter“, Google+ & Instagram

For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App now

  1. P
    Pranav
    Feb 27, 2016 at 2:18 pm
    Amazing! - I got free Clash of Clans gems here! Get yous too in less than two minutes!! Everybody is already using free gems from here.(HCE478iqsU)
    Reply
    1. A
      ams
      Feb 26, 2016 at 8:12 pm
      Dont worry. Shahrukh Khan or Salman Khan will get the sward for a Chennai Express or Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Thats Bollywood awards for you.
      Reply
      1. A
        Ashish Thakar
        Feb 26, 2016 at 7:08 am
        Do we have very fewer brave Indian soldiers getting killed and sacrificing themselves? Or does their real life stories, stories of bravery, patriotism does not entice the directors?. Are such subject only left out now to make Films there upon? Please rethink and explore.
        Reply
        1. O
          Observer
          Feb 26, 2016 at 5:53 am
          Zabardast movie
          Reply
          1. C
            clueless
            Feb 27, 2016 at 8:00 am
            we need to ban these stupid good for nothing actors and movies that make no sense and are a constant torture to human intelligence
            Reply
            1. C
              clueless
              Feb 27, 2016 at 7:56 am
              why can't you muzzies leave this country??? stan was created for you
              Reply
              1. M
                Miniprep
                Feb 26, 2016 at 7:01 pm
                While brave soldiers are getting killed, you are doing a job/bussiness, earning money, having a good time with your family and reading a movie review?!! Please rethink your life!!
                Reply
                1. T
                  Tara
                  Feb 27, 2016 at 3:45 am
                  Modi is also a G*A*Y
                  Reply
                  1. T
                    Tara
                    Feb 27, 2016 at 3:45 am
                    ur a hater or a rss dog do something worthwhile insted of hating
                    Reply
                    1. T
                      Tara
                      Feb 27, 2016 at 2:15 pm
                      tumhare baap ki jageer hai kiya u HinDUSHTS
                      Reply
                      1. N
                        NArayan
                        Feb 26, 2016 at 8:23 am
                        Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras...his hounding was initiated by the muslms in the universy, only because he was hindoo.
                        Reply
                        1. B
                          babu
                          Feb 26, 2016 at 12:00 pm
                          Modee life story
                          Reply
                          1. M
                            manish joshi
                            Feb 26, 2016 at 7:43 am
                            Just take it as a movie and it is brilliant at it. Period.
                            Reply
                            1. P
                              Poonam Abbi
                              Apr 29, 2016 at 1:29 pm
                              hamrey baapaur unke baap aur 10000 puston se bhi pehle se ye humari hi jaageer rahi hai... tum to aadamkhor balaatkari muslim invaders ki naajaayaz aulaad ho... tumhara to zameen ke kisi hisse par koyi haq nahi hai... jahaan jaate ho agi aur nahoosat hi phailtay ho
                              Reply
                              1. P
                                Poonam Abbi
                                Apr 29, 2016 at 1:23 pm
                                why do you musletis have tobe so defensive? and bigoted? Why don't you have the guts to admit that you are violent and inhuman and are doing everything to destroy whoever unmasks your evil face?
                                Reply
                                1. R
                                  roshan reach
                                  Feb 26, 2016 at 9:42 am
                                  Maybe there is a film waiting to be made : about a soldier questioning how tv anchors and bhakts are using him to promote their pulp patriotism. Or about a soldier posted in Siachen asking why India and stan lose so many soldiers not to the enemy bullets, but to the deadly cold. Or about another soldier who resents the use of army to control angry tribals whose lands have to be taken for the benefit of mining companies.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    roshan reach
                                    Feb 26, 2016 at 9:46 am
                                    Wonderful review that finds the right tone for a theme that can be reduced to either a parody or an activist and message movie. Makes me want to watch it this week itself. Thank you Shubra Gupta.
                                    Reply
                                    1. Load More Comments