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‘Article 15’ Is An Eye-Opener, But Also Has Glaring Ethical Issues

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SPOILER ALERT

I saw the movie Article 15. In terms of cinema, it is one of the best movies of the year, hands down. It is such a gut-wrenching story that you are bound to feel it, consume it and go home with a sobbing heart. Anubhav Sinha pulled off another stunner after Mulk. In terms of acting, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Zeeshan, and Sayani Gupta were outstanding.

Now, coming to the important thing, while I was discussing the movie with a friend of mine, a very peculiar thing came to light. For how long is the art industry going to feed off the stories of the victims and making millions out of it? For how long are we going to spend two hours weeping through a movie and talking about it for a few days when the actual victims of crimes keep increasing every day?

What you see here is a movie where it has been shown how caste still slays the constitution of India and how Article 15 of the Indian constitution is overlooked in so many ways. What you actually missed is the disclaimer, where the producers very subtly discarded the responsibility of saying that the discrimination portrayed is a reality.

Disclaimers are just now a legal thing, just like the “tobacco kills” on a cigarette pack. The makers of this movie put it out just as a loophole – to protect the producers from people who might take offence at the movie’s message or anything else. My point is, shouldn’t it be a copyright issue, where you adapt a story from a reality the Dalit community in India suffers from, and make huge money out of it? Can the writer of such a movie say with their hand on their heart that the story was entirely their brainchild?

If the government is entitled to uplift the lives of the oppressed, then it is also our duty to pay our due. I know the producers are generous to give a story like this a chance to be screened in multiplexes of big cities, but then at the same time, they should also think of where this money is coming from and where it is going.

As civil citizens, should we not consider the story of the oppressed as a stakeholder?

As I’m writing this further, I can feel the strain in the eyes of the reader. There is clearly a contradiction and I know there is no legal way that a fraction out of the profit earned can be demanded, but let us just think what actual impact the movie will have on the lives of people who have actually suffered the trauma that the story talks about. Nothing. In fact, most of them may not even see the movie. Why should they even feel the need to? This is their reality, as real as plastic waste in ours.

If one talks of social change and justice in real terms, then one may say that the movie does not matter in daily lives. It is just a piece of entertainment. But then, I’d say, isn’t it cruel to make money out of somebody else’s woes? It might hurt but it’s true.

As I write this piece, Article 15 has bagged more than ₹40 crore rupees in two weeks time. The village in which the movie was shot deserves the generosity from the success of the movie, other than the age-old saying “This movie was shot in my village.”

It is not enforceable by law for producers and actors to donate profit to those who inspire them, but what I cannot understand is that nothing has stopped them from doing so. After all, their hearts seem to be full of pain in the interviews they give during promotions. To me, it almost seems ironic at times to think that millions are made out of a story where women are raped and killed for three rupees. After all, the writer is also angry and horrified at society.

In an interview given to the Economic Times, Anubhav Sinha spoke about the privileged questioning privilege, which is right. We, the people who live in cities and enjoy such movies in the comfort of air-conditioned theatres are privileged enough to ask ourselves this tough question today: does this movie serve the purpose to its optimum potential? Is our part as citizens just to go and see these movies and talk about it to show our sensitivity or is there something real that can be done?

Then, there is the question of representation in the movie. A valid question is, why is the protagonist an upper-class, upper-caste Hindu man? To this, Anubhav Sinha says the privileged should be asking questions about their privilege. But I ask, why don’t the unprivileged ask the privileged the hows and whys of their privilege?

Nishad, a leader from the Dalit community, played by Zeeshan has been underplayed in the movie. Why could he not ask the questions? He’s been acclaimed for his performance, but the character was clearly under screened as we see in real life. Today, we have leaders who represent the Dalits as a vote bank, rather than as a community. Those who do dare to represent their community, are thrown in jail.

Having said that, these questions can only be asked if the movies are made on a large scale. We must applaud Anubhav Sinha for making a film like this at a time when theatres are filled with commercial cinema. You can see the numbers swarming in for Kabir Singh and compare. As viewers, unless we demand our filmmakers to make better stories, we cannot expect better representation.

A friend of mine also said, “It would be so much better if actual Dalits could play the role of Dalits.” This makes sense. If the intent is to tell their story and make money out of it, then why not let them tell it for you, at least in the little ways that cinema allows them to say it. I am not saying it as a critic, this is only feedback.

Nevertheless, Article 15 is a must watch for every person. It is huge value for money (and you go home with a bit of education for a change). A few places where comedy is slipped in, it is hilariously executed by Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa. The village songs sung in the movie are meaningful.

Ayushmann Khurrana agreed to this movie and is honoured to have done it.

The movie ends with a special thanks to Yogi Aditya Nath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, which was quite something. Everyone was left wondering who the Mahant was that joined hands with a leader from the Dalit community for power. I wonder if Yogiji has actually seen the film, if yes, did he like it?

Another point, how many IPS officers in India have actually known the real problems of India first-hand? This culture of seeing the country through the lens of a book written some fifty years ago by some Englishman of sorts is taking a unique toll on the nation’s welfare. I cannot understand why a person like Nishad or Mayank or Satyendra could not become the IPS officer. Maybe Nishad could have helped understand and solved the problems of the Dalit community in a better way if he had the resources to do so.

As I have already said before, this movie makes you think on many levels. And this is what makes this movie worth its watch.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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