“Koi mere feelings ko teen aksharon mein kaise sama sakta hai, ek kavita ki tarah se (How can anyone define my feelings in three alphabets (gay), like a poem),” asks solemn-looking professor S.R. Siras, moving you to the core and setting the theme of the narration. He, then, says that poetry is not in words but in the silences and pauses between the words. It is these silences and pauses of professor |Siras's life that the film focuses on.
Aligarh is based on the true-story of Aligarh Muslim University professor Dr Shrinivas Ramachandra Siras, who was suspended after he was filmed by spy camera having consensual sex with a man in his residential quarter. He was later found dead under mysterious circumstances. Hansal Mehta’s film is neither an attempt to make the audience sympathise with the violated man nor does it try to make one empathise with the character. The film is a simple yet effective portrayal of an aged, fragile, and lonely man who becomes a victim of invasive tendencies of society and an object of humiliation in the last days of his long career, cut short by months, as a professor of one of the best universities in the country.
Mehta, through Manoj Bajpayee (who plays professor Siras), beautifully captures the nuances of the professor's mannerisms and personality, making the character as real as it can get. You come to believe you are watching professor Siras, and not Bajpayee, due to the attention given to small details such as his insistence on using his own pen to sign his book and child-like aggression that takes over the professor on being asked to vacate his house.
Bajpayee makes professor Siras's character believable by putting forth everything that makes him one of the most talented actors of his time. Bajpayee, is effortless as professor Siras. You can see Siras in him each time the professor is 'labelled' as gay; in his discomfort and his inhibition towards accepting it as an adjective to define him. In a three-minute sequence, Bajpayee gives us a glimpse of professor Siras's soul as we watch this aged, lonely professor, with greying hair and stubble beard, draped in a thin blanket with a drink in his hand, finding solace in Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Aap ki nazaron ne samjha...’ within the four walls of his house. As the song picks pitch, so does he rise in his emotional turmoil. He gradually starts to sing along; eyes closed and fingers carving notes in the air. The camera pans to his unkempt feet, tapping with every beat. Here, he is out of tune; there, a bit breathless, but you know that he is nearing the zenith of his intense emotion. As the camera zooms into his face, you see tears welling up in his half-opened eyes and at that moment, the song is over and so is the music in his momentary exhilaration. Having witnessed it, how can one not believe in the heart-wrenching pain of his loneliness. Bajpayee, as professor Siras, is sheer brilliance.
Rajkummar Rao, as young journalist Deepu Sebastian, brings deeper perspective to professor Siras’s relationship with someone outside his own world. Deepu is the only person with whom professor Siras gets comfortable enough to allow him a glimpse of his thoughts or is willing to share with him stories of his life. Rao’s portrayal of a young, ambitious journalist is easy to relate to and so his increasing inclination towards someone who was just a story to him when he set out for Aligarh the first time. Rao’s transition from a gregarious ‘boy’ journalist to professor Siras’s confidante was seamless and their relationship is a pleasure to watch.
The film does have its own share of lapses and misfits, but none so grave to impact the narrative. For example, scriptwriter Apurva Asrani's attempt at drawing parallels between Deepu’s illicit passion and Siras’s longing for companionship is lost in the contradiction set by the difference in their ages and circumstances.
Overall, Aligarh, while it stirs your conscience, it remains honest with people who are the story and the storytellers of one of the biggest failures of human emotions as against the collective perceptions of society.
Director: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi