Pride Month special: Revisiting Hansal Mehta's brilliant LGBTQ+ drama 'Aligarh'
Manoj Bajpayee-Rajkummar Rao starrer Aligarh (2015) is a landmark film in the Indian LGBTQ+ landscape. Based on the tragic events that transpired in the life of Professor Ramchandra Siras, the movie leaves you with a lump in your throat with its gut-wrenching, plaintive storyline. This Pride Month, we revisit this monumental film and list five reasons that make Aligarh worth watching and worth remembering.
Bajpayee portrayed Siras in a heartbreakingly moving manner. From his soft, almost apologetic voice to his tired gait, he fueled life into the character. Even when he dozes off in a courtroom scene, we don't feel seething anger, what lingers on instead is pathos. The screen also crackles with Rajkummar Rao's ever-charming presence and his camaraderie with Bajpayee warms every fiber of your being.
The title, with its focus on the city that was both Professor Siras's launchpad and his life's final punctuation, becomes the country's microcosmic representation. This becomes more poignant in a scene where Siras's clothes—and by extension his dignity—are stripped off, representing the fate of the entire LGBTQ+ community. It serves as a reminder that numerous such cases are unapologetically swept under the rug daily.
Aligarh might be an LGBTQ+ drama but it also incorporates other themes such as religious conflict. For instance, Siras sighs about being an outsider and his "othering" is evident in how he is treated throughout the film. Rao's character Deepu Sebastian is diametrically opposite. Although his last name gives his "identity" away, it doesn't wall the two. That's how it should ideally be, right?
Aligarh concocts an engaging story of dehumanization and social hierarchy. Each time Siras's partner (unnamed for the most part) is mentioned, the speaker's tone reflects his inconsequentiality. As if it is an afterthought, a non-important entity. Since he is a rickshaw-puller whose place in society is at the "lowest" level, he doesn't need a name. His plebeian work becomes his only distinguishing factor.
Aligarh also explores the sadist joy of voyeurism when two people barge into Siras's house and begin his moral schooling. It's tragic that the house is deemed a sacred place, given more importance than Siras himself. His government quarter becomes a character. It's the only place that allows him to be his real self, but once he is ousted, it also becomes his prison.
Professor Ramchandra Siras, who led Aligarh Muslim University's Department of Modern Indian Languages, was suspended in February 2010 due to "gross misconduct." He eventually won his case in the Allahabad High Court on April 1, 2010. However, he died by alleged suicide a week later.