Sunday, February 28, 2016

In praise of Aligarh

Last night, I watched Aligarh. I don't watch many movies at the cinema, but I had been really looking forward to this one, after seeing the director speak last month. And it delivered fully on my expectations.

Based on real events, the movie follows the story of a professor, Siras, who is filmed, without his consent, having sex with another man. He is then suspended and publicly rebuked by the university officials, and thrown out of his apartment.

Every bit of the movie is brilliant - every sound, every frame, every bit of scenery, every silence seems to fit just right (which reminds me of Manoj Bajpayee's Siras talking about poetry and saying "It's not in the words, but in the pauses, the silences.")

Bajpayee is as excellent as ever: his Siras is dignified, gentle, introverted. His bearing, his clothes, his speech scream "professor" (my dad was one, and I'd mostly grown up within colleges, so this made him even more endearing to me).

Rajkummar Rao is also excellent (the only other movie I have seen him in is Queen, and he seems to be especially proficient at playing somewhat clueless characters): his blank face, his petulance is played just right to express immaturity, when in the hands of a lesser actor it might seem annoying and entitled.

What I like most about this movie is what it is not. With essentially the same story, it could have been:
  • A glamorous melodrama 
  • A story about a conventional "hero" (Rao's character Dipu Sebastian - straight, apparently easily relatable) fighting for a disadvantaged person(Siras)'s rights
  • A story of the LGBT movement
But it's not any of these. It's a story of a quiet old professor, near his retirement, who is suddenly faced with injustice. He is bewildered at finding himself in this situation, hounded by the media and reviled by his colleagues. He is racked by loneliness: his friends, if he ever had any, have abandoned him. 

But the story doesn't stop at that. It would have been easy to harp on the injustice without going into the sex. But this is not a story about an asexual or abstinent man. The sex is not just implied and talked about, it is shown. And while it is described by Siras himself as an "uncontrollable urge", when we see him with his lover, he is tender and sweet. 

I am a bit uncomfortable though, that his lover was so young - he looked around 20. I'm uncomfortable also that this poor Muslim man is implied as having betrayed his lover and causing his downfall (but maybe that's based on true events too, I don't know).

But if you can watch Aligarh, go. It is a sad and moving story, but it's also a beautiful one.

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