Aligarh (2015) – Movie Review

Aligarh is a powerful film by director Hansal Mehta who dabbles with the controversial subject of homosexuality and it being proclaimed as a criminal act according to section 377 of the IPC. It was subsequently decriminalised under the Indian constitution in 2009. The story revolves around the suspension of a Marathi professor Siras played beautifully by Manoj Vajpayee at the prestigious Aligarh Muslim university. The professor has been caught having sex with a rickshaw puller in his room by some people who did a sting operation on the two men. The university is ablaze and people want the professor suspended for his unnatural sexual behaviour.

The news reaches Deepu who is a trainee reporter working for a newspaper. Deepu wants to cover this story and get to the bottom of the truth. He, along with a photographer friend, reach Aligarh University to meet Siras. He sees the real man behind the mask of his sexual preferences and identity. Manoj Vajpayee beautifully plays the tragic figure of a man caught up between the devil and the deep blue sea. He is evicted from his quarter, his electricity is cut and he is humiliated by his own colleagues and fellow professors. They are nasty and vengeful towards him and victimise him. The director then delves into the questions of morality and the rights of a homosexual person, his abandonment and rebuke by an insensitive society that fails to understand his sexual urges and preferences and has no regard for his privacy. We see some professors who are also sympathetic to his plight. These are the liberals, the poets, painters and the intellectuals who make an effort to save Siras from suspension. Manoj Vajpayee plays the character of the confused, at times, timid. He is no-loudmouth, bombastic and a chest thumping fighter who is fighting for his rights to live and keep his sexual identity in a society that sees him as a disease and a scourge.

He is, at times, unsure of what to do and, at times, scared and also tormented due to what is happening around him. He is uncomfortable with it all and it’s as if he is begging us to let him be. But we keep hammering him. The fight to cancel the suspension of the professor reaches the courts. This is the introduction of another powerful artist Ashish Vidyarthi who played the no-nonsense lawyer who helps Siras fight his case. Siras, for his part, is mostly intoxicated by whisky, old Hindi songs and his book of Marathi poetry. The loneliness of a 64-year old man trying to salvage some dignity and pride in a society that has forsaken him is a theme that plays throughout the film. The way he is beaten with sticks and stripped during a forced sting operation, how he is kicked out of his quarters and asked to leave from every home he tries to stay in, you feel for his character all the time and want his agony to end. The film has its lighter moments when Sira is the guest of honour at a gay party full of artists and intellectuals.

This tragedy comes to its grand finale when we find Siras dead with an overdose of poison. A final act of a sensitive, learned and a poetic man hounded and stigmatised for being a homosexual. His last words to Deepu “I think I should go to America. Maybe people like me will get more respect there.”

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