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Why I Came Out Disappointed And Hurt After Watching ‘Aligarh’

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By Purnangshu Paul:

I would not say whether I liked ‘Aligarh‘ or not, but I would rather ask some questions directly to Hansal Mehta, the director.

Aligarh trailerI made a conscious choice to see the film in a ‘single screen’ rather than a multiplex because I wanted to see the film with a different set of people, those who one may not see at multiplexes. My coinage of different here, suggests audiences that seem to enjoy films within the boundaries of narrative and pace of it. As I was walking into the theatre, I expected a serious audience who would patiently wait for the film to unfold and unfurl itself. I had doubts that I would certainly get to hear a few ‘indecent’ comments.

I had to ‘shoo’ two ignorant young men sitting right beside me talking about how Virat Kohli yesterday ‘mutilated their enemy’ when the film had already begun and we had entered into a vital prologue of the film. The usual clumsy seat finding and late comers were an added bonus.

A group, just two or three rows behind my seat, were laughing and making fun of each of the scenes which were not meant to be funny. They never seemed to connect with the character Dr. Siras, as if they never knew what ‘being barred from freedom is’! Well not yet. They did not understand what it is like to be trapped in a body when the soul urges to be free.

To my utter disappointment, I found something graver and thought-provoking as the film progressed. No, I am not talking about the film as yet. I am talking about the audience.

During the scene where a man and woman were kissing on the terrace, all seemed fine. But the moment the scene transformed and showed a man embracing another man, the theatre burst out into laughter. Laughter of seeing something they are not accustomed of. During the painful antagonism that Dr. Siras was facing on screen, there was humiliation from the audience, which was thrown at him too.

As the film progressed, I tried to not get into the comments that I was hearing from people sitting around me, but something again caught my attention. And this time, it was really serious. Right behind the row I was sitting in, I saw two men who seemed like they might be homosexual. I wasn’t sure about it, until I heard them say, “See both the scenes of people having sex are the same, but it’s always ‘us’ that makes it funny.”

This sentence, in particular, coming right from a person who belongs to the community hurt me. And so I decided to write this article, to ask you about a few burning issues that struck me.

The first few questions that crossed my mind were – who are these films being made for? Where are we reaching? Are we ever going to be able to make people get over their ignorance and make them understand the delicate situation of a common man who has a different sexual preference?

In the film, we come to hear that “the essence of poetry is within the silence” through Dr. Siras. Is it ever possible for this ‘mob-sentiment driven Indian audiences’ to understand the silence in between?

How can we change an audience, which has been fed with a set pattern on screen for years and are subjected to the wrong idea of cinema, who can diversify the very content of cinema to its accord?

Every film should offer you something to ponder upon and you should leave the theatre with a bag of thoughts of what you have just seen. At least for me, cinema has always been a tool for the same. But, while coming out I was in two minds, as along with the film and the message that it gave me, there were these rising questions in my head. While I was leaving, I was quite disturbed. Walking towards the exit, I even heard a few talk about the film being ‘slow’, ‘without any song’, ‘how boring’. If such a brilliant film could not change their ideas towards cinema, how do you think the Indian audience would ever response to a serious film ‘seriously’?

For me, the only answer to these questions is to make more films like these so that they can challenge ideas that have been formed into the countless individual minds throughout the years.
We need to have more films like ‘Aligarh‘, ‘I Am‘, ‘Angry Indian Goddesses‘, ‘Fire‘, ‘Margarita With A Straw‘, ‘Memories In March‘, ‘My Brother... Nikhil‘ and ‘Papilio Buddha‘.

As Mr. Siras said, “Your generation labels things and their beauty,” I am not going to do that. I will tell you that I have great respect for you because you have made the film. The film needed to be made, but I am hurt that people seem turned a deaf ear to it, which is making them unable to grasp the ‘silence’ in between.

I would really like to have your take on the questions that have germinated to my head as I too am a film lover, filmmaker and a dreamer of sorts, who thinks that cinema can change people’s perspective and their ideas towards society and life. I would like to know how we can look beyond the multiplexes to make these films penetrate even further into the rungs of the society without receiving such lewd and often obnoxious comments.

You must be to comment.
  1. Jharna

    We need to have a discussion session in form of a panel discussion where finer aspects of the film needs to be discussed and debated. Many directors of the alternative cinema organise such a programme.

  2. Juhi

    A moving article first of all !
    Well in my opinion it’s about this very basic perception that a film is a piece of art, and it is supposed to have a certain message or emotion. But I have observed that majority of the people do not think this way and for them a ‘movie’ is solely for entertainment. As regards to the lewd comments, it just reflects our insensitivity towards such issues, and to a certain extent our ignorance. That, again is because of our upbringing and the rigidity of social norms. Change will have to start at the most basic level – one’s home; I don’t think we, as a society can really improve until each one of us decides to respect other people’s choices.But I do like to be optimistic and hope that with films like these and many more, we will be forced to re-evaluate our perceptions about these things !

  3. esi

    well, where I was watching the film,the audience clapped after the movie ended.

  4. Nivy

    CHANGE comes in the society with a help of society only. we are still towards evolution. wait and watch, you will soon get suitable surroundings. But i agree with Esi too.
    I would like to suggest the writer, dont be get disappointed i can see silver line :). yes, i appreciate your view that you put up here. Thanks

  5. sameer

    The mayor of Aligarh, Shakuntla Bhart of BJP, has brought bad name on herself,
    the ruling BJP party and the city of Aligarh by supporting fringe elements, who
    wanted to ban this film Aligarh. I think she is protesting against the law of the land,
    as she is protesting against the Censor Board which is the government body which has authority, and has cleared the film . That means she is protesting against the law of the land. Which now a days means sedition.

    The only way forward for the mayor is to own moral responsibility for her folly,
    resign form her post as mayor of Aligarh, as she has made a fool of herself by
    getting herself and her party embroiled in an unnecessary controversy when the
    world is looking on and when the Prime Minister from her party is trying to project
    a very inclusive and mature view of India to the world. I think she needs to resign
    form the post and take up a more humble job in keeping with her capabilities.

  6. sameer

    Section 377 of the IPC dates back to 1860 introduced during the British rule of India, and it criminalises sexual activities against the order of nature, arguably including homosexual acts. According to it, Unnatural offences means: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. The British legacy shines on in independent India. It is good to adopt certain good things that the British has taught us. But when the British itself have gone back and changed their laws, made it more humane and gay friendly, it is ironic that we in India have upheld Section 377, an inhuman law which says that any sex between people of the same sex is criminal and gets life imprisonment. That means roughly about one tenth, if not more, as some statistics say, of Indians are criminals who should be in jail.

    The verdict is unimaginably regressive. It means if your brother, son , daughter , sister etc,has homosexual tendencies they are criminals and they can go to jail for life. That is absurd. Sorry to say, the retiring judge on the last day of his job has just shown how wrong and incompetent he is. Now this law can be used to torture, persecute, blackmail and extort people who are homosexuals or indulge in same sex relations. It does not serve any other purpose. You cannot lock 100 million Indians (statistically one tenth of the population) behind bars. Then there are the religious god men who say the Supreme Court ruling is good. But a lot of God men are being caught duping, taking advantage of, and raping their own followers.

    And they say that we cannot accept any foreign concepts like freedom of choice to have sex with the gender with which one likes. But they have no qualms of accepting an outdated foreign laws imposed by the British long ago, which was supposedly based on the Bible . Indian spirituality and culture have always accepted all types of thoughts and people and has nothing against homosexuals. The bias against homosexuality is a very Victorian, western thought, which even the west have now understood is wrong and have changed their laws.

    But that is not all this law is very, very dangerous and not only does it trap all people who indulge in homosexual sex, but it endangers the rights of heterosexuals as well. Because Section 377 is applicable to all human beings living in India. What does Section 377 say? Section 377 says: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. The ambit of Section 377, extends to any sexual union involving penile insertion. Thus, even consensual heterosexual acts such as oral and anal penetration may be punishable under this law. Even masturbation is unnatural according to that. Argument being nature gave hands for eating not masturbating.

    So then any heterosexual caught in the act of having anal and oral sex or even in the act of masturbating can be prosecuted. So if one can find semen on the bed of a college student who is staying alone, in a college campus can be prosecuted, as he would have masturbated which is unnatural. A wife or girlfriend, who had on mutual consent, indulged in anal or oral sex can later turn hostile against the husband and drag her husband to the court of law to make her case strong. And just imagine the conmen and all the cheaters who can profit from all this. Just imagine the keepers of law, namely the shady cops etc who will to gain from all this. I think a lot of the conmen and cheaters are not aware that they can use the Section 377 to fleece heterosexuals.

    Section 377 was set up by the British in India. And it is based on the Bible. But even in the Bible, Jesus was asked by a large crowd of people to stone a prostitute who was caught by the people. Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” But Jesus told them that, whoever among them had never sinned should throw the stone first. All the crowd dispersed, as everyone had sinned at some point of time or the other. That left the prostitute and Jesus alone. Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” No, Lord,” she said.And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” Now if Jesus Christ can forgive a prostitute at that time when prostitution was a major sin according to the Holy texts how is some obscure law going to punish people who indulge in non penile vaginal sex? That is the reason why the British and most of the civilized world knowing how wrong it is to punish people because of the sexual acts that the do in the confines of their bed rooms, have now decriminalized homosexual acts and also acts by people who indulge in non penile- vaginal sex between adults.

    Hinduism is not as harsh as Muslim and Christians. There is no prejudice I think at all against homosexuals or heterosexuals who practice non penile-vaginal sex. Christians should also understand that through out Bible it mentions that nothing is forced in Christianity, and through out the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve, there was choice given and nothing was forced. Least punished for their sexual behavior. That leaves the Muslims. Now Muslims must understand that Islam is the religion of peace and they should stand against the people who force them to do Jihad and any other terrorist act. Section 377 terrorizes the whole of India and foreigners visiting India. A lot of liberals who fight for Muslims at secular forums are journalists, public figures, artistes, intellectuals, lawyers and judges are homosexuals and heterosexuals who practice non penile vaginal sex . And homosexuals are also considered a sexual minority. So Muslims instead of opposing them should support them and should contribute to repeal and do away with Section 377. So it is time for Section 377 to go, like we did away with Sati, like we did a with the custom of widows non remarriage, like we did away with slavery, like we did away with caste ism, and a lot of and so many other uncivilized practices, we should do away with Section 377. And the Supreme Court is empowered to do it.

  7. sneha

    Well for indian audience which like pathetic movies like chennai express or dilwale or prem ratan dhan payo this movie is intellectual and put a strain on their cognition and people will cetainly not like that…so let dumb and unaware !after all education cant get them anywhere …

  8. Kumarnath

    D reality of the society is sickening

  9. Rohit

    I agree with most of your piece. My problem lies in two places, one that your anger is not yielding any results. Two, it sounds biased and here’s why:
    “I made a conscious choice to see the film in a ‘single screen’ rather than a multiplex because I wanted to see the film with a different set of people, those who one may not see at multiplexes. My coinage of different here, suggests audiences that seem to enjoy films within the boundaries of narrative and pace of it.” well, didn’t you know what to expect already? Or you still went in to confirm your bias? Are you implying that people in the multipexes are more advanced and wouldnt react in the same way – well they did, at least in the one that I went to.

  10. Joel MaChado

    I liked how those guys pointed out the placement of the both the love making scene… googled especially to see if anybody else noticed it and I came across this… well even I went through the same while watching Udta Punjab… Alia Bhatt was getting raped and some guys laughed at it

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