Movie Review: Aligarh

February 26, 2016

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

aligarh

Photo taken from the official Facebook page of “Aligarh”.

Aligarh” is a movie that might require some amount of patience. The two-hour runtime is not long by Bollywood standards, but there is a meditative quality to it that seems to stretch time. Long silences and a lack of background music characterise most of the scenes, and the understated acting only enhances the minimal nature of the film.

The film is based on the true story of Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a professor suspended by the Aligarh Muslim University for having consensual sex with a man. He challenged his suspension in court and won. A day before the order revoking his suspension reached the university, Siras was found dead. Police found traces of poison in his blood, but closed the case citing lack of evidence.

In the film, Director Hansal Mehta focuses solely on Siras (Manoj Bajpayee), painting a searing portrayal of a man consumed by his loneliness and the knowledge that he cannot do much to change it. Mehta relies on your undivided attention to pick up some of the nuances in the story – the look on a fellow professor’s face when a reporter asks him to comment on Siras’s suspension, or the desolate houses that Siras finds himself in after being ostracised time and again in a small town.

“Sir, this time the landlord won’t ask you to vacate, but please make sure you don’t have too many guests over,” a real estate broker tells Siras sheepishly. Mehta keeps re-visiting the first scene in the film, where a pair of intruders enter Siras’s house and film him with another man. The whole sequence of events is revealed layer by layer, making it much more effective than if it was shown in one go.

The crucial moments in the film come unannounced, and there is no rising crescendo towards the end. “Aligarh” is an unusual film in that it revels in its slow pace. Perhaps because of this, it might seem like a laborious watch at times, but if you persevere, there will be rewards.

Bajpayee as Siras is in fine mettle. The scenes where he sings along to the strains of a Lata Mangeshkar song stand out, as do his interactions with journalist Deepu Sebastian, played by Rajkummar Rao.

Rao plays the perfect foil to Bajpayee as an ambitious reporter who first chases Siras in an attempt to get a scoop, but quickly warms up to the awkward, melancholic older man. The two become unlikely friends, and both actors play off each other wonderfully.

This is a film that will take some time to sink into; but once you do, it becomes an immersive experience.

(Editing by David Lalmalsawma; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and David @davidlms25. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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