STORY: The film is inspired by the real life ordeal of 64-year-old Professor Siras (played by Manoj Bajpayee), who was suspended by the Aligarh University for being homosexual. He was ostracised by the society at large and subjected to physical and psychological torture for his sexual preference. Rookie journalist Dipu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao) is the man who sees him for what he really is. Aligarh is their journey.
REVIEW: Some films cease to be a story or a mere depiction of an incident or an issue. You live them. They mirror the society’s mindset and in doing so, rake out your own prejudices. Aligarh is one such biographical drama that tugs at your heartstrings.
While it is melancholic, the film doesn’t resort to melodrama to evoke empathy. Aligarh’s heart lies in the beauty of its silences and the unspoken words and unrushed emotions shared between its lead characters. While decriminalising homosexuality is an underlying message, the film essentially revolves around companionship and loneliness, reminiscent of Aparna Sen’s masterpiece 36 Chowringhee Lane.
Hansal Mehta captures the inner turmoil and unrest of Siras in the most understated manner. Most importantly, he gives Manoj Bajpayee the role of a lifetime and the latter infuses soul to his character. Bajpayee’s tearful eyes display an array of emotions —sorrow, vulnerability, angst and fear. Scenes where he is seen reciting poetry in fluent Marathi and being immersed in Lata Mangeshkar’s songs all by himself, is work of pure genius. These will go down in history as one of the most soul-stirring cinematic moments.
While Bajpayee drives the film, Rao delivers an equally compelling performance. You look at Siras through his eyes as he shapes your perception of the man. Satya Rai Nagpaul’s cinematography and Karan Kulkarni’s background score highlight the isolation that haunts Siras. Apurva Asrani’s heartfelt writing too, deserves a mention.
“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages”, this remarkable quote by Virginia Woolf pretty much sums up the film. Aligarh stays with you much after you see it, especially for Bajpayee and his nuanced portrayal of a man brutally put to shame by an intrusive and insensitive society. It’s subtlety, redefined.