So, do we finally we have a sensible film on homosexuality? Well, hold on your horses, folks! Dubbing Aligarh as a mature film on gay-coming-out-of-closet would be a misnomer. Heck, doing so might mean doing a disservice to the ardent endeavours of director, Hansal Mehta, who has painstakingly driven home his point in his latest 2-hr. offering: You have no right to invade someone’s privacy and deprive them of the basic right to live with dignity.
Right from the first frame, to the closing titles, the director never loses his focus from this point and the character of journalist Deepu Sebastian, ably played by Rajkummar Rao acts as a compass to the entire story, ensuring that the audience gets what the director is hinting at, while implicitly in one breath, explicitly in the other. Manoj Bajpayee as Prof. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras is undoubtedly his career-best performance (Don’t we keep saying every time this gem of an actor shows up, even if it’s a short film?).
Manoj Bajpayee as Prof. Siras will take you by surprise. You’d wonder if this was the same actor who proclaimed, “Mumbai ka king kaun?”, professed, “Yeh mein nahin, Gita mein likha hai”, or growled, “Kehke loonga!” Be it histrionics, body language, gait, tone of voice or accent, the actor has indeed put his life into the character of Siras. The interactions between him and Rajkummar Rao are stuff legends are made of, especially the restaurant and the boat ride conversation punctuated with a selfie.
While we’re at it, the credit also belongs to writer Apurva Asrani, who approaches the character of Siras as a poetry, which reflects all across what transpires on the screen, where some things are explained, while some left unsaid, open to interpretation.
For instance, is Siraj actually gay (Pardon, Siraj, I know you don’t like this 3-lettered word to describe you) or was it because of sheer loneliness and gloomy life that he found solace in the company of his rickshaw-wallah friend? What kind of relationship they shared? The character of Ashish Vidhyarthi, too, left much to be desired. We would have loved to know this advocate who fights for the rights of homosexuals. What were his ideologies and what kind of person he was after the court hours?
Well, the risk that director Hansal Mehta runs into while leaving such questions unanswered is that the sting operation that spelt the doom of Siraj’s character and a very pivotal incident in the film comes across as a one-night stand. It defeats the purpose of making this film based on an actual incident in Aligarh Muslim University.
To sum it all up, Aligarh makes you feel like you’ve met someone you know and haven’t chatted up with him for ages. The moment when the journalist Deepu hugs Siraj after receiving a handwritten translated version of Siraj’s Marathi poems, you can feel the warmth of their embrace. It is this warmth of humanity which is the reason why you must watch Aligarh, a poetry in reels.