Last week, a day after Hansal Mehta’s latest film Aligarh was released for public viewing in theatres across the country except Aligarh city, I watched it here in a Delhi multiplex. Unlike other movie shows, though not very surprisingly given it’s “A” certificate and ‘the subject’ of the film, the hall was not full. However, I must confess that there were more people than what I had seen for Shahid, almost akin to those that turned up for City Lights. I clearly remember that there were not more than a dozen people when I watched Shahid on the first day of its release. The first thing that I noticed after the film started playing was the tune of Beparwah, a song from Shahid. It had an electrifying effect on me. Ever since the release of the song, I have heard it a several hundred times and even today, I hear it on loop. Shahid was a deeply moving tribute to the man (Advocate Shahid Azmi) and his mission, though initially I was extremely skeptical about the film. Since this is not a blog about Shahid, I would not go into the details. However, those interested in knowing my take may read it here.
Let me talk about Aligarh. As soon as the film started, I got lost in it. There were so many things in the film to watch, observe, understand, think, empathize, relate and engage with, that at the end of it, I was totally bogged by it. It was an altogether different experience for me. After watching the film, I did not know how to react to it, what to say and what not to. Literally, it took me a few hours to put down a small para on the film as my Facebook status. On reaching home, I wrote the following comment:
Why did I say so? Let me give you a few examples. I felt so because, given the ‘controversial’ nature of the subject of the film and the university—Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which is actual site of inspiration of the film, it would have been much easier and perhaps a box office hit, had the film maker chosen to make a sensational film instead. There was all the masala available for it. But instead of that, the filmmaker chose to make a film which takes one much beyond its immediate subject (much like ‘immediate identity’, remember Rohit Vemula’s words?) The most remarkable thing about the film is that it engages with you. It does not scream at you. It is very poetic and political with no overt claim of being one. It forces you to relate to your own vulnerabilities and insecurities, and perhaps at some level, privilege as well. It leaves you with unanswered questions, which don’t haunt you but force you to constantly think and ponder about.
While watching the court argument about morality and homosexuality, I was reminded of the ongoing debate about patriotism and nationalism. One of the court room scenes succinctly outline the difference between conventional or popular notion of morality and constitutional morality, much like Prof. Upendra Baxi’s argument and the distinction about Popular Patriotism and Constitutional Patriotism, which he made in his latest column in Indian Express on 27th of February, the day I watched Aligarh.
Sorry, but I have to refer to Shahid once again. While watching the scene of outsiders barging into the protagonist’s house in Aligarh and making videos and taking their picture in an almost naked position and beating them black and blue, I was reminded of the scene from Shahid when he is tortured by police. To me, the very act of barging into someone’s house and filming their private and intimate part of life forcibly is nothing short of torture. In this sense, there was a striking similarity between the two scenes. The context might be different but the intent was the same. To humiliate and force someone in order to acquire a ‘confession’ that what he did was wrong.
Similarly, the scene where the land lord asks the protagonist to vacate the house because he is a bachelor, reminded me of my own vulnerability and that of many of my friends and peers. Not long ago, I was denied a place on rent by several land-lords and ladies in Bangalore because I was a Muslim and because I was going to stay alone. I was reminded of my helplessness, much like the protagonist. And I was/am not the first and the last, many of my friends are denied houses because of their caste, religion, gender, food habits and region, to name a few.
Many would argue that Aligarh is a film about human rights and justice. Agreed. But let me say this as an activist who works for human rights and justice that Aligarh is not a human rights story alone but a human story. It is not just about being gay but being human as well and all human beings are different from each other. In this case, the person featured in the film is different in terms of his idea of love (yeah, the film is just not about sex as many would like us to believe). And the protagonist of the film says it clearly when he is asked about whether he is gay. “ ‘Gay’ ? How can you define my love in just three letters?”
If you have not watched a good film in a long time, I recommend you to watch this as it will not disappoint you. It does not matter whether you are pro or anti-Homosexuality. This is a must watch film even if you are not able to come to terms with it like a friend of mine who writes:
“How can someone end up making such a great movie! And how can someone bring such sensitivity to a character! Kudos Hansal Mehta and Manoj Bajpai. I’ll admit that even after years of effort, I am still substantially homophobic. And I don’t think I can change this at this age now. But any story told with such human touch, such sensitivity, deeply moves me. The only other film that did this to me was Brokeback Mountain. Do make time and watch Aligarh. It won’t be there for more than a week now.”