4 Very Good

Aligarh

Aligarh was chosen as the opening film of the Mumbai Film Festival and I went to see it wondering if the story, based on real life events, had been sanitized for the screen. To the screenplay writer and director's credit it has not. The sad story of 64 year old Professor Sirus, who was suspended and systematically harassed by Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) for having gay sex with a cycle-rickshaw driver, has been told here in all its poignancy. In it's time, it was a big case for gay rights in India, but Sirus was a frustratingly difficult protagonist, an unattractive personage unwillingly to face the media, unwilling to identify as gay, unable to see the larger issues at stake. Manoj Bajpayee does an excellent job in the complex role of the unhappy Sirus, with all its contradictions. He's shown drinking excessively every night, listening to maudlin Lata Mangeshkar songs. I don't know if Rajkumar Rao is based on a real-life character, but he plays a crucial role as the reporter who tries to draw Sirus out of his shell. He only party succeeds. For one, Sirus was very proud of his position as professor of Marathi at AMU and he was very loyal to AMU itself. He tells Rao he the victim of campus politics because he was promoted to chair the linguistics department, provoking petty jealousies. People knew he was homosexual and used it against him, sending two goons to break into his house to film him having sex. What followed was a downward spiral, but Hansal Mehta somehow manages to keep things from getting too depressing. One interesting scene has the now famous Professor Sirus being invited to a sophisticated gay gathering while in the city, where his newfound fans insist he sing a Marathi song. He does so, rather badly, and then collapses drunk.