Its the year 2019 and India still talks about ‘them minority Muslims’, ‘those oppressed Dalits’, mob lynching over cows, women scared to venture out after sunset in small towns and villages, force to say Vande Mataram, force people to say Jai Shri Ram..and.. and … add elections of the world’s largest democracy… that one’s decided basis caste, creed, race and religion. As Ayushmann Khurrana says in one scene (important exchanges with his wife, each of which makes the urban audience self introspect) ‘Is this the India I am proud of?’
We need them, beside us
Article 15 will make your head hang in shame in a few chilling scenes of the movie. That twenty seconds when the camera stays still on the two girls hanging from a tree; the lower caste man coming out of the sewer drenched in filth ..only to go down again; the three Dalit men beaten with a cricket bat for entering a temple; and that heart wrenching scene when Ayushmann breaks a bad news to his maid. 70% of India is constituted with people classified under OBCs (other backward class), SCs (scheduled castes) and STs (scheduled tribes). A big chunk of them help construct our roads, build our skyscrapers, clean our drains, farm under extreme heat, sweep our cities and do every other job without which we can’t sustain. And yet if we are judging people basis their surname, its a shame. In A Wednesday, there was a massive suggestion that surname should be removed or at least not made mandatory to mention.
Chilling crime thriller
Article 15 illustrates how the privileged class has made it routine that they deserve it all, while the fellow human is kept deprived of basic rights. Three girls are raped and two of them hanged alive…all for Rs 3..ie 40 cents. The one girl who manages to escape is the only silver lining you see in the murkiness. You want her found, possibly in one piece, possibly not dead, possibly with minimal wounds. It’s the only thing you care at a point. The narrative denominator gets that low when the father (of one of the girls) says ‘it was fine if they had returned my child after one night.’ At that point, as an audience you feel, yes it was fine if the perpetrators had returned the girls alive after one night of torture and rape.
In his previous flick, Mulk, Anubhav Sinha had touched on intolerance and Islamophobia. Unlike Netflix series Leila and Ghoul – where Hinduism is being targeted for maligning and tarnishing – Sinha hammers the real issues and the centuries-long underlying barriers. In Ayushmann he has a lead who plays the role to perfection. That urban ‘cool’ ambitious kid who wants to better India but is shocked at his lack of knowledge of India’s real problems. In one scene he is so confused with the caste and sub-caste hierarchies, he ends up yelling ‘WTF is going on’. You rally behind him the entire 140mins, don’t want him suspended, hate the CBI and believe only in him to crack the case despite the adverse circumstances. Even if I ignore the issues raised, Article 15 is worth viewing just for its lead man. In Bollywood today there are two actors whose movies you just cannot afford to miss… Ranveer Singh and Ayushmann Khurrana. In Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Andhadhun, Badhaai Ho and now Article 15, this AK is sure to give even Ranveer a run for the number one spot.
Pros and Cons
Manoj Pahwa and Kumud Mishra are the other stars of this movie. An altercation between them in one scene is terrific; where you are left unsure whether to trust one person’s helplessness or the other person’s plea to keep the ‘societal balance intact’ … lest chaos befalls on them. Sayani Gupta’s expression of rage through her eyes and Isha Talwar’s pretty face and patient ears adds to the momentum. The camera work shines as it takes us from dirty swamps to innocent corpses, the realism is intact and the movie ends with a great rap track..thank you Gully Boy!
Article 15 is not your daily masala movie…and despite the dark humour, do not expect any fun out of this movie. The other drawback (from an average audience perspective) is probably that extra subplot which could have been avoided. The Dalit rebel leader (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub) and his death didn’t contribute much to the plot. Then there’s a hint on the Satyendra Dubey murder case but that track ends with a whimper. There are good mocks on politicians Mayawati, Yogi Adityanath and Akhilesh Yadav and that could have been expanded.
Some time left to atone
However, don’t let it all fool you that acute discrimination is only limited to Uttar Pradesh. It exists from Rajasthan to Bengal to Tamil Nadu to Kerala. Hatred towards another race is an inherent human ill and not many can rise above it. Having been victim of a racist attack at Singapore, shamed and lost my job, the silent majority looked on as weak institutions caved in, I know how it feels. So, all your life, if you have judged someone basis surname, trolled, abused, denied job or house, cheated or mocked.. shame on you. Maybe today is the day to start atoning for your sin in the limited life time you have left. Meanwhile, do watch Article 15. This important movie deserves tax free status.