Aligarh is one of the few films which stays away from stereotypes regarding gays. It is about how even an ordinary man can take center stage if he gathers the courage to fight. Biopics are Hansal Mehta’s forte, as his films Shahid and now Aligarh aptly prove. Unlike Shahid, whose life and death were ready-for-movie material, Aligarh’s protagonist, Professor Siras’s (Manoj Bajpayee) existence was banal and boring. He was a kind of man you wouldn’t notice walking on the street.
He was also gay but what made his life out of ordinary was that he was filmed by some people (hired by the University as was later found) having sex with a rickshaw puller. He was not particularly a courageous fighter either, preferring to tender an apology (for his “immoral act”) to keep his job. He was afraid to publicly own up his sexuality or stand up for the cause. He was pushed in the spotlight because other concerned citizens saw the unfairness in AU’s decision to fire him and challenged it in court.
To make a film where the central character is a person like Siras and keep audience interested is not an easy task, yet Mehta manages to do that. It helps that he has an actor like Manoj Bajpayee essaying the central role and a supporting cast in Rajkumar Rao to keep the story moving. Aligarh is probably one of Manoj’s finest performance. Without his expressive face and body language, the film could have become a tad tedious. He keeps the character of Siras engaging and interesting. The way he reacts after looking at his selfie (“I am looking so ugly”) and almost coyly says thank you when Rajkumar’s character assures him otherwise sets a bar in acting. Rajkumar’s journalist is young, peppy, and non-judgmental and lightens the mood a little bit.
Hansal Mehta has also touched on the politics behind the whole controversy. It seems his rivals were not so much concerned about his sexuality than his elevation to the position of Chairman of the linguistics department. Professor Siras says he was an outsider, a Marathi professor in a town where people spoke Urdu. Was it just the language or was it a hint at the hardliners in AU who did not like a non-Muslim taking over the important position of Chairman? So they had to take him down, even using illegal means. Hansal Mehta never delves deeper perhaps because he wanted to focus on the Professor and not on the plotting by his detractors.
Unfortunately, Prof Siras died soon after he won the case against AU. How he died remains a mystery – was he poisoned or did he commit suicide? We may never know. Hansal Mehta has given us the real human being behind the litigation that garnered national attention. An important film indeed.
Rating : 4/5
Starring: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkumar Rao
Director: Hansal Mehta