Ayushmann Khurrana in a still from 'Article 15'. Photograph:( Twitter )
Over the years, several filmmakers have made films depicting this harsh reality of our society, so the premise of filmmaker Anubhav Sinha's new film 'Article 15' is not new. Yet, the film holds relevance in present times.
We may have progressed as a nation, we may call ourselves a sovereign republic- but division based on caste and religion continue to plague our society. Over the years, several filmmakers have made films depicting this harsh reality of our society, so the premise of filmmaker Anubhav Sinha's new film 'Article 15' is not new. Yet, the film holds relevance in present times.
Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana) an IPS officer finds himself posted at a fictional town of Laalgaon, in the interiors of Uttar Pradesh. Europe bred Ayan is how most urban educated Indians are- woke activists, aware of the rights but have never experienced any kind of disparity in their lives. In the beginning, things seem the usual and Ayan is repeatedly told by his subordinates that things are fine and how he should not be meddling in a local business. When three girls from the nearby village go missing and their family members seek the police' help, Ayan's subordinate Brahmadutt (Manoj Pahwa) admonishes the case as a common occurrence. It's only when two of those missing are found hanging from a tree, does Ayan wake up to the situation and realises that everything is not how it seems.
Loosely based on the 2014 Badaun gang-rape case, co-writers Anubhav Sinha and Gaurav Solanki do not mince their words as they depict the harsh realities of caste and class discrimination that exists in just few hundred kilometers from metropolitan cities of India. It may not matter in the big cities what caste you belong to- but in the smaller towns, caste decides your occupation, your way of living and your standing in the society.
As the educated, liberal and righteous Ayan goes about doing his job, looking for the third missing girl, he is warned by his colleagues to not break the equilibrium that exists in the small town. Ayan's investigation also makes him realise that despite education, there exists a class divide in the town where the upper caste may be dependent on the lower caste for their day to day work yet the inherent prejudices make them discriminate at every step.
There are two poignant scenes in the film that stood out and perhaps define the prejudiced, casteist society we live in. Irritated by the constant reference to caste and class, an exasperated Ayan walks out of his at the thana and asks all his officers to assemble. He then goes on to ask each of them their caste- and they reply nonchalantly- even making him aware that who are part of the OBC and who isn't. It's a comical scene-where one constable even clarifies that Jats were 'normal' but are OBCs now- the point is made very effectively. Then there's the scene where the main accused is interrogated by Ayan on why he killed the girls? The accused, an upper caste landlord says 'because they had to show their status in the society,' without batting an eyelid. The girls' crime? They had asked for a raise for the work they did at the accused's house.
Sinha's film, in fact, is full of such powerful moments. A scene right before the interval has Ayan pasting a notice at the entrance of the thana that explains Article 15 of the constitution. As his subordinates gather to read, the camera continues to focus on the notice for a long time so that the audience can also read and become aware. An effective parting shot before the film cuts for an interval, I'd say.
Sinha also manages to cast a brilliant set of actors. Khurrana, who has had a stupendous last year with two hits - 'Andhadhun' and 'Badhaai Ho'- slips into his character well. Bollywood has always glorified the cop in its films making him look larger than life. But not Sinha. Khurrana's portrayal is realistic- a man who has been bred on the right books, who has studied abroad and who knows his job, yet clueless to the realities until he faces it himself. It's a restraint performance from the actor who has made a name for himself in slice-of-life comedies. It is refreshing to see Khurrana play the role with such conviction in such a grim and complex film. The narrative never lets Khurrana's stardom or charm take over the plot, which is great. Kumud Mishra, Manoj Pahwa and Sayani Gupta are also superb in their respective roles. Mishra plays a lower caste, reluctant cop who finds a voice after years of being admonished for his caste. He brings great vulnerability to his performance and is simply brilliant.
While the film is driven by a strong storyline, it is also technically sound. The tone is grim and camera work by Ewan Mulligan and editing by Yasha Ramchandani keep you on the edge of your seat. Mulligan shoots the Indian countryside beautifully, and each frame is praiseworthy- some of the aerial shots, the way Mulligan captures dawn, the close-up frames are all so well composed. A little over 130 minutes long- the film never loses pace and keeps the viewer engrossed throughout.
While the film overall is effective and delivers a very important message- its subplots- involving a local Dalit hero(Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub in an impressive cameo) and his angst against a godman-turned-politician is a tad unnecessary. Sinha tries to touch upon how caste-based politics exists in most of the states in India and how it just takes the minorities backward instead of taking them ahead, but that itself can be made into another full-fledged story. These are just minor flaws in the overall picture because the story is compelling enough to make you analyse your own behaviour towards others.
'Article 15' doesn't mince its words. It tries to initiate a conversation that has been due for a long time. It may be fiction, but the story is all too familiar and uncomfortably close to our own lives. It forces you to think within and perhaps that's the biggest takeaway from the film.