Verdict: Bajpai steals the show, yet again.
Aligarh is a movie based on true events that transpired in Aligarh University in 2010, before homosexuality was criminalized. Here's quick snapshot of the real issue, in case you haven't heard about it already. Professor S. R. Siras, an award-winning author and a linguist, taught Marathi in Aligarh University. He was suspended after a sting operation that caught him engaging in a sexual act with another man in Siras' house. This was a few months before his retirement. Siras was found dead in his apartment, shortly after that.
The film opens with a shot of a window of a house, where the lights go on and off a couple of times. This house is in 21 Medical Colony (as we later find out) and a home to Prof. Siras (Manoj Bajpai). Two men slyly enter Siras' house and find him in an intimate position with a local rickshaw puller. Siras, who is a Marathi professor at Aligarh University, is immediately suspended for displaying “immoral conduct”. Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao), who is a newly-joined, enthusiastic journalist with Indian Post, expresses interest to cover the story. He sets out to meet Siras, in order to uncover the truth and bring it out in the open. Siras is in no mood to talk to the reporters; not yet anyway. The story unfolds, uncovering a lot of things. As the movie progresses, we realize that things are not as they seem, and neither are people.
The film has bare basic camerawork, which imparts a stunning simplicity to the whole film, not unlike its protagonist. The music is virtually absent, cutting down the drama quotient and giving us a sense of hard-hitting reality. So much so that there are times where you might forget that you are watching a movie. The powerful, engaging narrative, which could have easily gotten dramatic or over the top, ends up being so earnest that you find your heart sinking at a point.
When two National Award winning actors work together, they breathe life into their roles. Bajpai's portrayal of Siras is very sincere, and is practically the soul of the film. Right from getting the Marathi diction perfect to the self-aware shyness that makes you feel so strongly for the character, he single-handedly manages to win your heart. Watch out for this scene where Siras is invited to a sophisticated gay party. He is so charming, in a child-like way. Rajkummar Rao makes us feel for Siras in his earnest portrayal of Deepu. He is sympathetic and supportive, and sincerely wants to help Siras. They form a beautiful bond of friendship and mutual respect, which balances out the otherwise gloomy storyline.
Why You Should Watch This Movie:
The turmoil of being homosexual and surviving in the Indian society is not something all of us go through. The struggle for acceptance and a disturbing end will move you. The performances are beyond brilliant and the film is crisp, not a minute longer. This is a movie not only for the arthouse cinema lovers but also for the rest. The movie shows a stark contrast between Siras' and Deepu's worlds, and you cannot help but feel strongly for the protagonist. The movie rises above just another social cause, and has layers of humanity to it. Do yourself a favor and don't miss this one.