I watched Anubhav Sinha’s recently released and much talked about Article 15, and I want to talk about the problems I felt the film was rife with. The title gave me a rough idea of what to expect from the movie, and I will say that the film’s depiction about the realities of caste discrimination does not tread on eggshells.
The movie starts with a song by, and on, the struggles of the Adivasi community. We are shown shots of two girls being brutally abused in a secluded spot, and the background score and sound effects add to how very unsettled the audience already feels. We are then introduced to Ayan Ranjan, the ‘hero‘ of the movie who is posted in the village where the incident has taken place. Here, right from this point, something seemed amiss to me.
Everyone, with the exception of our ‘outsider hero’, is hyper-aware of caste identities. It does not feel like I got a clear picture of Khurana’s character, except for the fact that he is the hero, he is unaware of caste realities around him, but he is able to notice that there is something ‘sinister’ unfolding around him. Oh, we also see him as a student, with a love interest, an activist and a journalist, who tries to bring out the (woke) hero in him. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
There are some scenes which, although, are meant to show his frustration at the entrenched caste based mentality of the villagers, does not hit the mark, like the scene where he asks his officers their castes and tries to understand who is above whom, and then yells out of frustration.
While Article 15 certainly is a hard-hitting film, I do not think it’s Ayushmann Khurana’s best. His range of expressions, I felt, was minimal and repetitive, and only reduced the scope for the audience to really connect with him. The constant use of eerie suspenseful sounds, even when not required, did not work for me.
This aside, the bigger issue for me was the oversimplification of caste discrimination and misogyny that work together to create a structure of oppression. The nuances that are required when exploring caste, especially when we talk about working towards a solution to deal with the aftermath of an incident that the movie is based on, was very simplified.
Ayan’s answer to everything happening in the village is to cite Article 15 of the Constitution which prohibits all forms of discrimination, based on caste, place of birth, religion, race or sex. Before Article 15 comes Article 14, which ensures that the state shall not deny equality for all before the law, and ensures equal protection of the law to all. We are made to wonder why these tenets from the Constitution do not exist for the villagers. But for all these problems, the movie offers one solution: Ayan Ranjan.
The message Article 15 tries to put out is that we should ”stop waiting for a hero”, but it shows the exact opposite of this. Ayan Ranjan does not ”give a f*ck” about the fact that he is a Brahmin, but everybody else does. How can someone oblivious to his own caste location become a ‘hero‘ who tackles the caste system?
Nishad who is a local and very radical leader played by Zeeshan Ayub, is far more relatable than Ayub and deserved more screen time. I think Nishad’s character is one of the best aspects of the movie. It felt like Nishad’s character felt real, where Ayan seemed fictional.
The movie is based on the 2014 gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in UP’s Badaun district and the Una incident of 2016. We have seen how the depiction of real-life incidents has come to be a risky endeavor. Even though director Anubhav Sinha’s lead character is Brahmin (which he is oblivious of), the film faced threats from organizations like the Karni Sena, who claimed that Brahmins were shown in a bad light. This is very telling about caste realities in our country, and also of the status of freedom of speech.
On the question of how much of an impact Article 15 would (and can) have, I would say, minimal. I appreciate the efforts taken to keep alive the atrocities of the Badaun incident, but I think it succumbs to the same pitfall that Pink succumbed to- cinematic effects overshadowing the real aspects of an issue, and a savior who has come to rescue us all.