Man Who Loved Closet (Aligarh Movie Review)
(Spotlight was going to be the only proper biopic I was going to witness in a long while. Then Aligarh happened and lightning struck twice)
… Aligarh. The movie is about a controversial case, wherein an Indian university in the city of Aligarh, suspended a professor for gross-misconduct. His crime, I’m thinking, is that he was caught having consensual sex with another man on camera. Correction – I’m thinking, the crime was his house being broken into by the cameramen. This movie, I’m thinking, is about the dire impact this uncorrected, intrusive crime, had on a non-interfering life. The victim –
(Yes I Googled it for you – You’re welcome. Notice how indicatively Wikipedia is highlighted)
Before the movie could start, I’m thinking, I took a deep breath and braced myself for what I feared could be another pro-homosexual drama. But then the movie began. And it starts with that fateful night, where Professor Siras is driven home by the rickshaw-puller he was soon to have consensual sex with. And as the camera follows them, I’m thinking –
Okay – brace yourself Thoth, you’re not gay, you’re not homophobic, but I’m thinking, you don’t exactly want to see two men – as Will Smith would say – “Gettin Jiggy with it”… bracing for discomfort, I took another deep breath
(I really need to stop doing the deep-breath thingy; sounds like Monk Sarcofagus’s Revenant review)
And then suddenly the camera stops, staying in the single-shot.
We don’t walk up the stairs with the couple. We don’t invisibly enter the house with them, as I’m thinking – I see the Rickshaw-puller close the door. Our perspective through the camera, just stops where it is – outside the professor’s house, on the undisturbed street – as invisible onlookers. Just waiting.
(At this point I’m thinking – Wow, cool long shot – I suppose…)
Then two men approach the building and break into the professor’s house – camera in hand. And I’m thinking, the human in me on that street, from the camera’s perspective, from my theater seat, felt like yelling – DON’T!
I’m thinking, it is only human-decency to not break into a man’s private affairs! As long as he is not hurting anyone. AND THEN, I’m struck with an epiphany. I’m thinking, what if it is a show of human decency that’s keeping the movie from entering the house – uninvited? In the first place. After all, Professor Siras’ private life only becomes public, after this unfortunate incident. My epiphany turned to realization, I’m thinking, as the movie frequents this fateful night – time and again – before its conclusion. Each time the protagonist permits a more revelatory perspective into what actually happened.
(I’m thinking… Director – Hansal Mehta. Story, Research – Ishani Banerjee. Story, Screenplay and Dialogue – Apurva Asrani… GENIUS!)
Does Manoj Bajpayee’s performance carry the film?
So, I’m thinking, I’m in a dilemma… yes, like Movie Monk – Confuzeus…
(Or however his confused name is spelt)
… After watching Shahid (also directed by Hansal Mehta), and seeing an honest-to-God, jaw-dropping performance by Rajkummar Rao, I decided that he was the best Bollywood actor that I’ve seen. However, I’m thinking, while he plays a vital side-role in Aligarh, the lead – Manoj Bajpayee (Bollywood veteran), who portrays professor Siras, delivers a performance so good, that – I, Thoth, won’t think twice before saying – I enjoyed it as much as any of the recent Oscar nominated performances.
(It will take an entire review to do justice to Mr. Bajpayee’s performance, so I should stop at that)
But that being said, I’m thinking, it also must be said – It is a great injustice and a severe lack of observation, to think that this movie is only great because of its actors. While the two aforementioned actors are the spine of this movie, I’m thinking – the writers and director boldly veer that spine, towards being a – slow paced, true-to-life, not-too-dramatized (hara-kiri in Bollywood) – version of Professor Siras’ lifestyle. And it is this direction, I’m thinking, that makes Aligarh such an important movie.
(This – I’m thinking – as opposed to eulogized versions of biopics, such as the in-theatres commercial super-hit Neerja… which I also liked, but for different reasons…)
The movie artistically voices a fresh perspective on the ongoing – ‘Homosexuality in India’ – discourse, through well-crafted scenes (both subtle and deliberate), which provoke thoughtful questions and cleverly allude to social hypocrisies. So, I’m thinking, there’s much fodder for the vigilant movie-watcher to ruminate on.
How Aligarh Thoth-Provoked Me –
One (of many) remarkable scene in the movie shows Professor Siras on a news-channel debate, discussing his predicament. He starts voicing out how he feels and barely utters a few nervous sentences, before the other panellists cut him off – vociferously spewing their own views over his. The professor just nervously says he really wants to go pee… so they allow him to go and play his face staring into the camera on loop, as the debate rages on.
I’m thinking – we wouldn’t know the professor (even though he won an award for his poetry). There would be no movie called – Aligarh. I wouldn’t be reviewing this contemplative experience that I had. If not for the unfortunate controversy. However, I’m thinking, when we examine controversy, is our enquiry a concerned one? Or are we just looking for breaking-news or bias-confirmations? When we as an audience watch biopics – is it to care for what a person is/was really like, or are we as visitors in a zoo, throwing stones at the animal – so they’ll do something fun?
What makes Aligarh’s depiction beautiful, I’m thinking, is that the controversy of its subject is used as a mere backdrop, while the movie focuses on who Ramchandra Siras was as a person, the little things he cared about and how he hated being labelled. How he wasn’t a gay man overly concerned with his homosexual-rights, just an unjustly suspended professor who had an undying love for his university. And I’m thinking, it is through Rajkummar Rao’s character – who (effortlessly) plays an empathetic journalist that befriends the professor, that we learn of, understand and perhaps regret a life that could have concluded undisturbed, in lieu of suicide – that eternal cliffhanger.
Thoth of the week – “Some need the expanse of the world to come out to and live free, while some find all the world they need within the comforts of their closets. To each be his own”
(This review contains no spoilers – if you Wikipedia or read plot synopsis, except if me telling you that a certain selfie which never took place, takes place, counts as one… Still a beautiful picture though)
Watch Aligarh now! Encourage #BetterBollywood Movies!