The reasons could be many, but a lot among us are closet homophobes. 'Aligarh
' makes us question our own 'morals' and our reaction to someone's sexual orientation which doesn't match our own or which we are conditioned to think is ‘not right’. Any film that makes us think and re-think our own responses for days after having watched it is obviously a good film.
In a society where sex itself is still struggling to get out of the taboo status, homosexuality is refused to be understood and generally perceived to be a shameful secret that needs to be suppressed with all our might.
Taken from a true and heart-breaking story of Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras — who in 2010 was expelled from the Aligarh Muslim University after he was 'caught' indulging in sexual activity with a male rickshaw puller — Aligarh sensitively portrays the lonely life of a homosexual person in this regressive society. Siras (played by Manoj Bajpai
) is used to being an outsider as he's the lone Marathi professor in an Urdu dominated university. But what he didn’t bargain for is being part of a conspiracy hatched by some of his fellow professors, who want him to be humiliated and isolated just because he prefers being intimate with men.
Bajpayee gets into the skin of the character with such raw honesty that the viewer is immediately drawn into Siras' melancholic, lonely world where his companions are a glass of whiskey and Lata Mangeshkar playing on loop. He is a scarred and scared man, as the three locks on his doors poignantly suggest. Siras, anyway, is not a hero as he evidently would rather cower than confront. It takes the persistence of a young, idealistic journalist, Deepu Sebastian (played by Rajkummar Rao) for Siras to even consider fighting for his rights. One scene where Siras is forced to move into a shithole after being asked to leave the government quarters and all he does is continue with his daily routine without protesting is subtle and yet so telling.
Credit goes to Mehta and writer Apurva Asrani for etching out his character with such precision. Rajkummar Rao, who has successfully adapted the Malayali accent to suit journalist Sebastian’s role, lends good support. The admirable ease with which they relate to each other shows us the magic that can happen when two good actors come together on screen.
Mehta, who earlier gave us the gritty Shahid (2012), is evidently at his best when he brings true stories to life and, in his own way, fights against the injustice meted out to the protagonists. Thankfully, Mehta, for most part, doesn't get carried away by the emotions attached to such a subject, and presents it as starkly as he can. The only time the script (by Asrani) and the director falter is in a scene where they try to gain respect for the poetic professor's sexual encounter by calling it 'love'. As if these men who are rooting for sexual freedom are still not ready to accept sex as just a necessity and not necessarily an act attached to the feelings of the heart. The meandering, slow pace largely works for the film, but sometimes works against it.