September 16, 2020
Released in the year 2015, Aligarh struck up a conversation about the LGBT+ like never before. Mostly since it is based on a real-life story. The story a professor broken open by a journalist. And that is when everything begins in the plot of Aligarh. If you simply want to know if you should watch the movie or not, I would strongly recommend it. That is only if you enjoy an intense, meaningful and slightly bitter side of life.
Starring Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkumar Rao in the leads, the movie takes the audience on a journey into Ramachandra Siras’ life. A professor at an esteemed university whose life story altered the LGBT+ scene in India. Siras is not only a professor, but also the Chairman of the Department of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University.
Aligarh: The Siras Story
The movie mainly focuses on Siras’ story but significantly narrated through the reporter. Professor, a simple man who enjoys his whiskey and some good music, like most hides a secret that his University is trying to blackmail him with. With a wife who estranged him, and who he rarely remembers.
But Ramachandra Siras is a man who has earned himself a good status and position at the university. And he has got many people waiting to throw him off the throne. When Siras is almost six months away from retirement, a sting operation breaks open revealing his sexual orientation. And it is big news. His story envelops the entire country eventually.
India is a country that is still struggling to accept the LGBT+ community. And back in 2010, the case was worse. The sting operation opened up conversations that the country was not ready for. Only last year was the Section 377 was abolished. And Siras’ story broke out in 2009-10.
The Root of All-Cause
A decade is a lot of time for change. Especially looking at it from the LGBT+ front. The community has not only raised awareness but also created events, pride parades, and witnessed LGBT+ weddings. That is a lot of progress comparing the scenario in the story of Siras developed. The country was flabbergasted. They shamed Siras publicly on newspapers and television channels as well.
Siras has almost lost everything he has, and struggles hard to keep his life as together as possible. And an intrigued reported senses the professor’s struggle and travels from New Delhi to Aligarh to help him. He befriends the professor and learns information about the incident. And how it was all a ploy against him.
Coming out is a stressful period for many people. The reactions, the acknowledgment, or the acceptance is never easy. But the whole concept of coming out is taken away. It is a shameful dark secret that is uncovered only to exploit the Chairman of an institute. Siras has almost no control over his tale and his truth. The University ostracises and throws him out.
As mentioned earlier, Aligarh is based on a real story. There were political, humanitarian, and judicial extensions to his case. The gay activists across the country came together to fight for Siras. Several processions held in support of Siras across cities in India. A petition is also signed across the country in his favor. His case is fought at the Allahabad high court. And his lawyer rightly picks up on the abolishment of Section 377. (Which I thought was a bit of glitch)
Either way, Professor Siras wins the case, and the moment will leave you feeling elated and proud. It also gives you a sense of hope for the LGBT+ community in India since it managed to access it’s rights to equality. When you’re almost there, the story hits you with the next big shocker.
As IMDb mentions, Ramachandra Siras, “ultimately, he loses his life in suspicious circumstances a day before the University receives the letter to reinstate his job and his position as the chairman. It was inconclusive if the poison found in his body was a sign of murder or a suicide.”
Startling and Revolutionary
Aligarh provides a great reflection of what it meant to belong to the LGBT+ community before the awareness dawned upon the country. From lesbian women couple who fought for anti-discriminatory laws in India, to cases like Siras whose discrimination called for unity within the community, the LGBT+ history in India can be traced. All the way to the Indian mythologies. Bajpayee’s acting is exceptional as always, and Rajkumar Rao has played a considerable side role, impactfully.
Aligarh is a treat to those who wish to glance at India’s state of affairs when it comes to the LGBT+ community. Legal limitations, political right-winged-ness and the general non-understanding of what it means to be queer increase the gap between the LGBT+ community and the rest. Which is what makes Aligarh a narrative of the times.
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