Saturday 27 February 2016

Aligarh movie review

"The movie suffers because the makers lack belief in the theme"

I am perplexed at the superficiality with which few films are revered just because they have an underlying liberal or modern view of the society at large. Such themes, although important on a social basis, are those that mar the objective discourse of a movie and throw you into vicarious yet peripheral emotions. Aligarh is a victim of this very flaw- both in filmmaking and the subsequent reception. 
Remember 'Courage the Cowardly Dog'? An anthropomorphic beagle who gets frightened at the pettiest of things in spite of its name? Well, it's a crude comparison for me to make so I am not going to. Just remember that I mentioned it for some reason.

Real life stories are blooming in Bollywood these days and the makers seem to have picked the formula straight from Hollywood. They do not even try to throw in the sensitivities associated with an Indian audience. But we will get to this some other time. Because this review is about this movie and not about the general flaws of others at large. 'Aligarh' is based on the life of an AMU professor and his suspension from his job on account of his homosexuality. The events in the film took place during the time when consensual homosexual activities between adults were legalised in India. 

The movie tells you about the professor, Dr. Siras (Manoj Bajpayee), showing him as that quintessential thinking man who takes pleasure in basic things of life- music, poetry, alcohol. He lives alone but what's more of it, he is lonely. Maybe the movie shows us all this because it wants to justify his choices, his "feeling that can't be understood within a narrow gallery of three letters". The movie tries to establish a connection with the viewer here, wanting us to feel for this man, feel for THE MAN, but we can't. The makers, it seems, are themselves uneasy with coming up forthwith with the central theme of the movie. They seem to be curtaining the real issue under the banal portrayal of goodness in a man. And the minute we realize that the makers are sheepish about the movie, we stop caring for it.

As a director and a writer, you have to believe in your film. Hansal Mehta and Apurva Asrani have made this film what it is on the screen today but it is uncertain if they are comfortable with making it. When you make a movie like this, you can't shy away from talking about homosexuality. But in the movie, they do so ever so immensely. Just when it looks like they are trying to get into the character, they break the shot and move to other non-important motifs. There is the story of Deepu (Rajkummar Rao) who gets to have the prime share of those frames. Although his story, as a journalist weaves into Dr. Siras's through their conversations and interviews, we are left wanting for more about the troubles of Siras. 

It's not that the movie tries to be subtle with its theme, playing it in the background putting courtrooms and media induced drama on the center stage. The movie does that because it feels incapable of telling us more about the character we want to know about. What is his world-view of things happening around him? How does he fight with those in his mind? What is he thinking? There are questions and questions we want answers to but the movie skips through everything at that. It wastes some good talent by doing all this and what's more, it belittles a great story.

Manoj Bajpayee comes up with a balanced, low key performance though. His scenes tell us how you do not really need over the top sequences for good acting. But all of that is exterior to a real character study of Dr. Siras. All in all, we do not really get to know the man the movie is centered on, let alone start to care for his predicament. Rajkummar Rao is good as Deepu but the fact that he has a rawness in his accent which he can't lose here is a letdown. The sequences are extremely modest, which may be an outcome of the desire to keep the film more documentary-like than dramatic. But in spite of that, there is little biographical appeal to the movie.

Bandwidth Verdict- This might be the bet of the week for you but Dr. Siras's story deserved a better film.

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