So only a week after I write about how pre-conceived notions may actually impact how you eventually view a movie, I have to – happily I may add – say with conviction that the jury is indeed out on that. I saw the trailer for Aligarh a few weeks ago and was immediately as they say on social media – #MindBlown! Again, seemed just like ‘my kinda film’ – I’m beginning to think there’s a category for nouveau-faux-serious-itellectualness, but hey – you gotta be true to yourself right?
So anyways, I was quite excited about Aligarh, avoided reading any reviews as usual, some middling comments on Facebook sighted before being avoided may have been dismissed as coming from one of those ‘masala movie kinds’ (you know the ones some of us Hollywood watching snobs sneer at).
If I had to put up a 3 word review for the movie it would be – classy but confused. And while it seems contradictory for those two things to co-exist, they can. I think it’s a topic which has been handled with a great deal of sensitivity. The movie is not intrusive at any point of time, does not resort to stock stereotypes and is to a great extent realistic. Some of the ways parallels are drawn – the juxtaposition between the kissing scenes for example I loved. The grey-ness in us all: a professor discriminated for being different still maintains his own personal prejudices with pride, unwilling to even share a spoon with a friend from a different caste. The gravity of arguing about privacy in a court room and the casual way it is taken away in our homes and society.
The reticent professor, the over-enthu, can-hardly-stay-still young journo, the slimy, greasy university staff, the colleague/friend who does not want to pollute the family name, the suave yet slightly distant prosecutor all seem perfectly done. They don’t feel like actors – you can truly imagine each of them being whom they are. The small town feel right down to the smallest details, the long steady shots (the flyover in the opening scene, the vantage of the house, the balcony later on, the room with the nice lamp and many more) and the overall mahaul of the movie is spot-on. Although I must add here from the other side, there were a few occasions where the direct indulges himself a little too long to create the mahaul (the scene where Siras listens to his music is one). And showing the graphic video or recording so many times was not really necessary – I was impressed at how they were revealing details without showing any gory details, only to find after every exposition they cut back to show the clip again wondering what exactly what the purpose, if showing it multiple times was supposed to make you feel revolted then they hadn’t understood better.
And yet, yet Aligarh is not entirely satisfying. One reason may be because it is a sad, gloomy tale. It reminded me before I entered the hall of Hansal Mehta’s last movie – Citylights – again, not a bad movie but one as dour and melancholy as a movie could be. But it’s also because at it’s heart the movie seems confused. I’m no legal eagle, but for me there were two pivotal issues here: 1 – the right to privacy, the right for every man to do as he pleases in his own house and 2 – the section 377 issue, the criminalization of un-natural sexual conduct. And while the case in question definitely has components from both of these issues – one always felt that they were two tracks running parallely to each other which were never satisfactorily resolved.
What was the movie about? Was it about the court case – how the various pieces of the case actually came together, and moved apart? Is it about the protagonist Siras – what went was going on his mind, how did he evolve as a result of this event, what did he experience in that torrid time? Is it about an unlikely friendship – between a young journalist and an ageing professor who seem to have nothing in common – neither language, nor what they describe as art, not what seems to drive them – and thankfully, thankfully not even their sexual preferences (I was terrified till the last few acts that they would show the reporter to be helping the Prof. only because he himself was gay a la Taare Zameen Par). Taking multiple points of view is I am sure not an unnatural way of telling a story, but the story did not seemed to be resolved properly. Even the court case ended up more of a disqualification on a technicality rather than an logical amalgamation of the issues faced.
My mind goes back to that middling post on Facebook which I’d dismissed and as I eat humble crow I have to agree with the poster – this is a movie which flirts with a lot of issues, but does not really get to exploring any of them properly.
3 stars for Aligarh then, a well made movie with the best of intentions on a subject that although it is tremendously cliched to say this – needed to be made.