There's only one way ALIGARH goes, the Manoj Bajpayee way. The actor is all-consuming in his portrayal of Shrinivas Siras. It's as though Bajpayee has sliced the character of Siras to insert himself in. What comes out is performance of the highest caliber, something Bollywood can be proud of, something that is not always seen on screen. This is education in motion for those wanting to do a character study of an actor who has subjected his existence wholly to a character.
The walk, the look, the slow body movement, the sideways glance, and even the dialogue delivery essayed sometimes with difficulty, are a delight. You see nothing on screen but this fine actor blazing away.
Directed by Hansal Mehta, this movie is based on the life of Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a professor at the Aligarh Muslim University specializing in Marathi literature and head of the Department of Modern Indian Languages.
Siras' homosexuality was not something that the university was proud of. They organize a sting to catch him with his pants down so that they can do away with him. They do that one night when he is having consensual sex with a rickshaw puller. Four of his colleagues immediately appear at his home in the dead of night, out of nowhere, to shame him. One also assures him that the video will not be made public.
The next day, however, the media has reported this scandal and Siras is suspended. Then begins his reluctant fight to have his job back and suspension revoked.
After his Successful SHAHID
, Mehta works his way through another biopic, and although he gets his subject right, not all of his surroundings get things going. It is only the brilliance of Bajpayee that negates all such short-comings.
Rajkumar Rao's character as a reporter from Indian
Post is not well-defined; nor is his role in his organization. He is shown as the 'ticker man' when it is now a redundant post, done away with ever since computers and the internet invaded our lives. Tickers or news inputs from different agencies (PTI, UNI, AFP, Reuters) would be handled by a clerk who would give the respective copies to the various departments (Sports, Politics, Business, Crime...). Just like proof readers are done away with, so are the 'ticker guys'.
A little clarity on his character and what were the exact stories he filed in favour of Siras would have helped in establishing his character, rather than just air-brushing his character onto Siras. Even with no support, Bajpayee wades through. You can almost sense Rao's lack of conviction in his role in his last scene where he hugs a lady at a crematorium at a random scene.
Bajpayee, however, gets acting support in the courtroom with Ashish Vidyarthi and the lady lawyer both of who put up an applause worthy performance.
Siras wins the case, but a day before the official judgement asking JNU to reinstate him could reach the college, he was found dead in his rented apartment in Aligarh. Poison was found in his blood but no one was convicted.
ALIGARH is for a niche audience who love their performances refined. And as far as a performance goes, Bajpayee surprises even himself.