Aligarh

aligarh_mehtacritic

Director Hansal Mehta said at the Q&A after the screening at ‪#‎IFFLA2016‬ that this film is not about gay rights as much as it is about the issue of privacy. He has said in other outlets that this is a film about loneliness. Aligarh works quite well in the latter regard but not the former. As the first gay legislation films to come out of India, where homosexuality is currently criminalized, the movie fails to explore the deeper issue underlying the hullabaloo surrounding the real Professor Siras’s suspension. What exactly is outrageous about the “moral code” that the Aligarh Muslim University was upholding? And why not transgress the easy distinction between moral and legal? Some seething, hidden outrage and offense led to invasion of the privacy, so to have the main plot focus just on privacy does disservice to an issue already hardly seriously dealt with in mainstream Hindi cinema. When you have talent like Manoj Bajpai on board, make the film that matters. Mehta said that he does not care about making message movies, and that’s fine. Additionally, it’s not the case at all that issue of invasion of privacy is unimportant (hello, all the MMS video scandals that have been around since early 2000s). But to give us a character like Siras via a beautifully (excessively?) restrained performance from Bajpai, and then to not show a little bit why the character does not like “labels,” to blur the intimate sex scene between the men whereas to portray the straight sex scene normatively (erotically charged, in public, with closeups, and a far more passionate kiss); is to not be critical enough. Aligarh is not impactful enough, is my humble opinion. Having said this, I liked the film overall. Rajkumar Rao gives a pleasing supporting performance, and if anything, it’s his character that tries to get at the man behind Siras. In sum, I wish we had seen more “text,” because the subtext behind Bajpai/Siras’s achingly singing along to “Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha” was glorious. It was the one scene in which I thought the film’s markedly slow pace was warranted.

B/B-

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