Banners: Benaras Mediaworks, Zee Studios
Producers: Anubhav Sinha, Zee Studios
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kumud Mishra, Manoj Pahwa, Sayani Gupta, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Isha Talwar, Ashish Verma
Writers: Anubhav Sinha, Gaurav Solankhi
Music: Anurag Saikia
Bollywood is still getting used to a new and improved formula, where entertainment is being redefined to accommodate thought-provoking cinema. The only requirement is that it engages the audience. Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 awakens the conscience with its sensitive yet gritty depiction of a horrific social reality – a casteist society and its brutal consequences. Leaving the audience with a feeling of despair – not an ending Hindi filmmakers aspired to achieve till very recently – this film is a stirring example of great cinema.
The story begins with IPS Officer Ayan Ranjan being posted in rural Lalgaon in Uttar Pradesh. Educated in elite Delhi colleges and in Europe, Ranjan is surprised that the caste divide is still rampant at the grassroots level in India. Soon after he settles into his new posting, he gets involved in a murder case where the victims are two young Dalit girls. Talk of their respective fathers killing them is doing the rounds but Ranjan senses that there is more to these murders, especially after a third girl goes missing.
Further investigation reveals that the girls were gang-raped and hanged from a tree, a fate they nmet due to their caste. Dealing with local politics and pressure from his superiors to close the case, Ranjan keeps fighting for justice. Can he get to the bottom of this vicious casteist circle? Does he find the third girl? Does he succumb to pressure? All this forms of the crux of the story.
At the very beginning of the film, Sinha subtlly introduces the caste divide through the dichotomy of songs playing in the background. While we see a group of Dalit workers enjoying a sing-along that talks about this disparity, there is another scene where Ranjan, played by Ayushmann Khurrana, enters the village to the accompaniment of Bob Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind in the background. These sequences set the tone of the film, preparing the audience for the impending polarity.
With Mulk, we saw Sinha pick up sensitive subjects and hold up a mirror to society. He has taken it a notch higher with Article 15. The latter seems to be an extension of the former, which also talked at length about equality and raised important questions on social prejudices and double standards. But what sets Artcile 15 apart from Mulk is that it takes the road less travelled, that of subtlety. The writer-director makes a bold social commentary without making the film preachy. While an explanation of ‘Article 15’ on the screen, fixed for a few seconds, might seem didactic in nature, in hindsight, it works in favour of the film.
It is to the credit of the writers that, despite the gravity of the subject, they manage to get a laugh or two from the audience simply by showing the absurdity of the setting and the people that are involved in it. The writers handle this with sensitivity as the humour does not make light of the scenes.
Most of the scenes are shot at dawn, dusk or late at night, which is in tandem with the overall mood of the film. Ewan Mulligan’s lenses frame the grim, rustic, countryside of Uttar Pradesh with a rare authenticity. There is a veil of gray and blue used that looms over the film. The misty atmosphere and mellow light create an aura of mystery and suspicion.
Yasha Ramchandani’s editing is strong and crisp. The scene-to-scene shift goes with the flow of the narrative and doesn’t leave the shots incomplete. The background music is another highlight. The raw emotion of the film is enhanced by Mangesh Dhakde’s score.
Article 15 is a film that is important to watch and understand. Anubhav Sinha has effectively translated the message that he wanted to through not only the storyline of the film but also with strong performances.
Performance-wise, Ayushmann Khurrana takes a detour from his boy-next-door characters with this serious avatar. With his subtle, subdued portrayal, the actor has aced the part and makes you believe in the conviction he shows on screen. Kumud Mishra is a class apart with his conflicted character. Manoj Pahwa’s character shows shades of grey and he essays this role brilliantly. Sayani Gupta does a good job. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is decent in his extended special appearance. Isha Talwar provides good support to the central character. Ashish Verma delivers a great performance.
Verdict: A must watch!