Fifteen minutes into Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh, Professor Ramachandra Siras (Manoj Bajpai) sits alone in his dark, dingy, AMU flat and hums along ‘Aapki nazron ne samjha pyar ke kaabil mujhe’ to Lata Mangeshkar’s original melody emanating from an old radio perched on a messy bedside table.
The maligned professor’s voice is gruff, out of tune and falls out of pace in every stanza. But he doesn’t stop. A close continuous shot stays focused on his face for the entire duration of the song.
A song that doesn’t belong to the film or has an immediate context but one that manages to convey the gist of the entire film within its three heart wrenching minutes. The expressions on Manoj Bajpai’s face and his demeanor; the way he holds his shoulders up and his brows together; are enough to encapsulate his helplessness in a way that no spoken words ever could.
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As a hitherto respectable senior professor and HOD who is close to his retirement and yet undergoing an unfair trial by media and univ officials, he is broken down to pieces till he can’t fight back at all. In real life, Professor Siras died soon after he was ousted from his official position and his house. Suicide was suggested but not confirmed.
When he is asked to explain himself, Professor Siras says he doesn’t understand or relate to the three letters that label him G-A-Y. It is not something that makes sense to him. More importantly, it isn’t something that he owes an explanation to anybody at all.
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In an era dominated by inane comic /action franchises that crop up every summer like a recurring curse, Manoj Bajpai’s poignant portrayal of a man of letters on the verge of losing everything in life is a career defining performance like no other.
Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh is proof of the malaise that continues to plague the Hindi film industry. Quality cinema on an important social issue that’s made with utmost sincerity but still cursed to lapse into obscurity while regular commercial ‘ one-time-watch-paisa-vasool-time-pass’ trash keeps pulling the crowd in, despite all their apparent shortcomings.
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Aligarh cannot be described as mainstream entertainment by any means. But it is still an understated and terribly under-watched Hindi film that manages to address the gravest of personal issues with an uncommon, rare sense of dignity. Watch it for the courage and fortitude of its central character and that of director/writer team of Hansal Mehta/ Apurva Asrani.
A small but topical film, here is the tragic the tale of a man who was dismissed for a crime that was already decriminalized and paid for it with his life regardless.