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.
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. 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.