By Atiya Anis:
‘Aligarh’, a movie based on events from the life of Mr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University is not only an entertainer but speaks to its audience on serious issues of choice, social prejudices and the oblivious silence. It also brings to light work and institutional politics. With its powerful star cast, strong script and brilliant direction, the movie documents the beauty of love, relationship, loneliness, and struggle. The silences throughout the film will disturb our dormant conscience, which has often conveniently chosen to be a spectator.
Aligarh needs to be watched and that too patiently. The movie is not only about gay rights. To me, the movie is about human rights. A portrayal of how people become victims of an institution and of society. It is about each one of us, who can become the next victim. Accused of dreaming freely, accused of consuming food of one’s own preference, accused of talking of liberation, talking different, wearing different clothes and just being different at all.
Siras, a doctorate in Marathi and Masters in psychology, joined Aligarh Muslim University in 1998. On February 8, 2010, he was filmed having consensual sex with a rickshaw puller, in the privacy of his quarters. The sting operation and the motive behind it were never questioned. Instead, Siras was suspended. It was later claimed that AMU was involved in it but the claim has been denied.
On April 5, Siras returned to the campus after the Allahabad High Court stayed his suspension. Two days later he was found dead in his apartment in Aligarh under mysterious circumstances. Prima facie, the case was thought to be that of suicide. Post-mortem reports showed some traces of poison in his body. Six people were arrested, and three journalists and four AMU officials were thought to be behind the crime. However, the case was shut down due to lack of evidence.
At present, homosexual intercourse is a criminal offence. In its judgment on 11 December 2013, the Supreme Court bench stated, “In view of the above discussion, we hold that Section 377 IPC does not suffer from the vice of unconstitutionality and the declaration made by the Division Bench of the High Court is legally unsustainable.”
Siras portrayed by Manoj Bajpayee will keep haunting you with his questioning eyes, the eyes filled with sorrow, vulnerability, loneliness, and fear. The movie will linger with you. It will make you insecure and afraid about your privacy being invaded. The movie talks through unspoken words and actions. After the incident, Siras puts three to four locks and latches in the house from inside. His constant fear of how many locks to use is a question to the society.
The movie came out at a very apt time. A time when we are besotted with the fear of invasion of our privacy. Everything is being monitored, our conversations, our food and our thought. The movie is based on true events yet begins with a disclaimer, which shows the paradox we all are living in. And we thought we had been liberated 67 years ago!
‘Aligarh’ is about a yearning for privacy and for dignity. It’s a plea to institutions, the law and to society that what goes on behind closed doors and with the consent of those involved is nobody else’s business. The movie is symbolic in the current times where we see institutions, the government, and the society penalise people for their choices and opinions. While ‘Aligarh’ is a celebration of love, at the same time, it is also an assurance that the next time around the climax will be as beautiful as the beginning.