Hansal Mehta's Aligarh has left me confused. I only have questions after watching the film. Generally i think it is a good thing if a film makes you ask questions but in this case i am not sure if the questions are indicative of the quality of the film or the lack of it. Instead of beginning with my skepticism i shall first jot down some moments from the film that i liked.
For the most part of the first half i liked Mr. Mehta's storytelling technique. Liked the opening a lot especially the enigmatic switching on and off of the light in the professor's house which is clarified much later. Interesting. From the Malayalee professor [Sreedharan] who approaches professor Siras seeking an apology to the young Malayalee [Didn't know our lot was this famous] journalist, everyone seemed to be doing their parts well. Manoj Bajpayee was brilliant of course but i was thoroughly unhappy with the character profile that was given to him. I will never forget the shot in which the professor is swirling his foot listening to 'Aapki Nazaro ne Samjha' on his radio. In my opinion it was the most beautiful thing in the film. I plan to copy it of course.
I read that some professors of the University had a problem with the title of the film. It would make people think that there were a lot of homosexuals in the university, that Aligarh represented other things and not professor Siras etc. I however, liked the film's title. To pick the story of somebody who was hunted and persecuted and who was a minority in the university and to give that the name of the very university which brought it upon him is protest in itself in my opinion. Well done (with a slo-mo(48 fps) nod).
Now to the questions.
1. Given that the film is based on a true story, why was that not stated anywhere in the film? Or is it that i missed it? I usually sit through the entire titles of films so i would like it if someone can point out to me if it was mentioned anywhere in the film.
2. According to the actual event students from the university were involved in what was called a 'sting operation' but in reality was just forced entry and breach of privacy. Why was that omitted?
3. According to the actual event the professor's partner loved him. He was married with five children but never ever denied that the sex was consensual. Also he didn't seem to be as young as shown in the film. Why then in the film was he portrayed as a person who was made use of? Why was he shown to have been living in a 'terrorist' place - this is how muslim populated areas in india are shown in films mostly. To ascertain it one just has to watch 'Traffic', (any mainstream film would do, actually) a malayalam film which has portrayed (under a different name of course) one such area called Beemapally in the film. So in 'Aligarh' the reporter gets beaten up by thugs of the area.
The media had reached to this lover. He had denied his involvement in the forced entry into the bedroom. Why then was the film absolutely silent of it? Why was this person's agency completely denied in the film? Muslim men can talk too, you see.
In a recent interview the lover has changed his version again but was pretty sure that the film was not doing him any good. In fact he seemed to get angry at the very mention of it.
4. Why is the professor's character so docile in the film? He was a scholar and had published several papers. He wrote poetry. So why was he portrayed as unaware of gay rights? A lawyer has to tell him that it is not 'he is a gay', it is 'he is gay'. From whatever information one can gather about the deceased professor he wanted to settle in US and fight for gay rights. But in the film he is shown as a person who feels that his 'urge' cannot be defined by the three letters called 'gay'. Seemed very unlikely to have come from a person who wanted to fight for this cause. In an interview he had remarked that what was done to him was an "encroachment on my privacy" and that he felt "angry", "ashamed" and "insulted". In the film this seems to be the mallu reporter's idea.
Again from the beginning he is shown as somebody who is not willing to publicly declare his homosexual identity while in the interview he seems to be very clear about the fact that he is gay and that that was no reason for him to be treated like a different person. In fact he says 'I feel very very easy and comfortable to say that i am gay'. Why was this man's character twisted and turned to look like an ignoramus' when it comes to gay rights? What exactly was the filmmaker's problem?
The whole court ordeal is made to look as though it was imposed on the professor who was not ready for it. Why? Especially when the person had said exactly the opposite things? By showing him sleeping in the court and generally not interested in it why did the director try to turn the audience's sympathy away from the professor?
5. In the film the professor is invited to a party to which a lot of people who had signed a petition in his support were present. The part where the lawyer lets the professor know that they were all his supporters looked gross to me. What was the professor supposed to do? Obeisance? When will we stop thinking that everyone who fights for gay rights is gay? Why is the professor shown as a regressive person who assumes that the lawyer fighting his case is gay?
6. Why was the professor shown to be a casteist cow? Was he that way in real life? Not that it is a problem you can be gay and casteist but why was such a detail added at all? [The professor refuses to eat the dal which the reporter had touched saying he is a brahmin. Made no sense to me].
7. What exactly was the reporter's problem? I mean there is a story that he wants to do. Why he wants to do that remains a mystery to me because if i were a journalist and i had heard about this incident my first reaction would be to question why it was 'gross misconduct' to have consensual sex. In the film however, the journalist chooses the violation of privacy factor as his theme for the story. Yes, it is true, it is a huge violence and needs attention and action but it was somehow disturbing to hear from the reporter in the film that the report that his female colleague had done on the incident sounded like a speech on gay rights. Is that a crime when in the incident gay rights have been violated! It was also disturbing to listen to him reiterate that he was not interested in the gay rights violation of the story. Some journalist the mallu boy is, i should say!
8. Throughout the film the reporter's sexual orientation is not mentioned. I was kind of getting to like that when the boss woman took him out on the terrace and kissed him. When she asks if he had never been with a girl before he pauses for a while and kisses her back. Why was it necessary to bring in a heterosexual relationship to the journalist's character? What was the director's problem in keeping his sexuality (which has hardly anything to do with the story he is trying to tell) behind the screen?
9. Was there any reason why the students of Aligarh University who supported the professor was not mentioned at all? Aligarh Muslim University seems apolitical all of a sudden with the only professor who seems sensible not willing to go on record and the other unwilling to depose about the letter that he had made Professor Siras sign saying he was ashamed of the act. He has a wife who gives looks to the professor. [She is in the film only for that one shot which makes me think how important that look must have appeared to the director when he was filming. So the mallu professor Sreedharan and his wife are conservative pricks. Good]
10. Hansal Mehta, the director has said about his film that '...desire does not know any gender...you can desire somebody from the opposite sex or somebody from the same sex and that's somebody's absolute personal choice'. Yes, i do agree. But when a professor has come out as being gay and he has made clear that he knows he has not done anything wrong, when he has fought the battle all the way long and got a verdict in his (and therefore the whole gay community's) favour, why is being gay being reduced to desire and just that. Is being gay just about sex? If that is what Mr Mehta thinks i would like him to watch Sancharram of which i have sung enough praises already. Tan ta daan.