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Banner: Eros International, Karma Pictures

Producers: Eros International, Karma Pictures

Director: Hansal Mehta

Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi

Writers: Apurva Asrani (screenplay & dialogue), Ishani Banerjee (story & research)

Music: Karan Kulkarni

Aligarh is a courageous attempt to explore a dark reality that has been aptly explored by sensitive performances. Striking an emotional chord yet handled with restraint, the film is evocative and thought-provoking and one that keeps you engaged throughout.

Based on the life of Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, the story writer Ishani Banerjee beautifully showcases the life of the teacher, while the execution by the talented Hansal Mehta further enhances the experience for the movie-goer. Mehta, who bounced back into the limelight with his last two hard-hitting releases, Shahid and CityLights, has kept this film as real as possible, and has woven the facts into the weft and warp of the screenplay with deft ease.

The film follows 64-year-old Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee), the newly appointed head of the Modern Indian Languages Institute at the highly reputed Aligarh University. He is the only professor teaching Marathi in all of Aligarh. One night, two reporters and four professors barge into Siras’ apartment and record his intimate moments with a rickshaw puller. It is a traumatic moment for the professor, whose privacy has been brutally invaded. The next day, Siras is suspended as the institute does not tolerate homosexuality.

Grabbing media headlines, Siras’ story catches the eye of a budding journalist from Delhi, Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao). Convincing his editor that Siras’ tale is a human interest story rather than just another ‘news report’, Sebastian helps Siras open up and introduces us to his version of the story. Approaching the court against his suspension, which is against the law, Siras challenges the Aligarh University to reinstate him in his post. How the film progresses forms the crux of the story.

Even though the pace drops at regular intervals, the way the screenplay has been written and the superlative performances hold your attention throughout. The most amazing part of this experience is watching Bajpayee, who gets under the skin of the character and leaves you awestruck.

Mehta, who won a National Award for Shahid, is in his element again. He seems to have worked doubly hard on the detailing of this film before the cameras began to roll. Thus, apart from the slow pace of the film, there are many scenes that surprise you and others that have shock value. Still, the film is not disturbing and, instead, makes you think. That Siras, despite the trauma he is experiencing, doesn’t lose his smile, albeit fragile, is a nice touch.

Background score is another asset of the film and complements the segue perfectly. Satya Rai Nagpaul’s cinematography is first rate. Editing by Apurva Asrani could have been tighter. With a runtime of 120 minutes, the film drops its pace in many places. ‘Small’ can sometimes be ‘big’, and the Aligarh team emphatically makes this point. This movie is stitched together with superlative performances by everyone and with beautiful writing. Locations and costumes add to the narration.

Performance-wise, Manoj Bajpayee is one of the finest actors we have in our industry. He makes the character of Prof Siras his own and it is tough to tell them apart. Bajpayee essays his role with sheer conviction and honesty, making the Aligarh a fascinating watch. He convinces you that no other actor could have done justice to this part, and that is the hallmark of a true genius. Rajkummar Rao is fabulous and delivers a strong performance. Ashish Vidyarthi as the prosecutor is spectacular. The others lend adequate support.

Verdict: A must-watch!!!

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