“How many roads should a man walk down before he is called a man?”
We get to examining this within the precincts of the right to equality guaranteed but denied under the halo of Article 15 of the constitution of India. This is painful cinema. If you have the tears, prepare to shed them now; if you have a conscience, ready it now for query. If you believe that we live within the parameters of the Rule of Law, shed the illusion.
Our protagonist is an IPS Officer Ayaan Ranjan (Aayushman Khurana), who is still grappling with a system that is woefully skewed and rotten. He is no Anant Velaker (Ardh Satya) or Vijay or Ravi (the multiple avatars of Big B as a cop). Perhaps a tad near to Amit Kumar (Gangajal). He is posted in a caste-consumed backyard left to face the seeming suicide of two girls and the search of the missing third Dalit girl of the local area. The opening shots of the film immediately engage you. The filmmaker then dares you to waver from the vivisection prognosis of a putrefied system operating under the euphemism of the successful implementation of the Rule of Law. Even as a character makes a reference to Ajay Devgan in describing the idealist protagonist, the filmmaker hurts more than Prakash Jha ever did. Remember Anubhav Sinha dealt earlier with the facade of secularism in our polity. He now tears into the socio-economic pretence of equality.
Conflict is central to any engrossing task of storytelling. Here they are in multiple spaces: between the Lutyens idealist and the street bureaucrat; between the upper caste and lower caste members of the local police force; between the law-fearing victim and law-defying revolutionary; between the angry helpless Dalit and the calm but scheming contractor; of those who swear by the system to betray it and those who defy it to protect the spirit of the constitution; an idealist in judgement and a realist on the prowl.
If you have a liking for words don’t miss the amazing dialogues (Gaurav Solanki alongside Anubhav); if you have an eye for detail than watch the caressing yet hurting cinematography (Ewan Mulligan). Just two instances sampling one each: There are more scavengers dying on duty than soldiers here; the scene where the scavengers are out of the pit.
Many decades ago, Shyam Benegal essayed hope against exploitation with Ankur and followed it with Nishant. Forty-five years down the road, the hope stands betrayed and the malice still endemic. Socio politically to the vast majority of the Uri- The Surgical Strike generation Ankur, Ardh Satya and Do Bigha Zameen are cans occupying the archives. This is a timely reminder of how much we remain the same in the midst of our tall claims of progress. A character in the film, a revolutionary on the run Nishad (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub in a praiseworthy cameo) says: ‘Kabhi Harijan kabhi Bahujan Jan nahi ho paate’.
The script is tight, the direction honest, the performances top class.
While everyone is in perfect tandem with the roles assigned special mention must be made of the likes of Sayani Gupta as Gaura the local Dalit girl; Manoj Pahwa as the upper caste corrupt police officer and Kumud Mishra as Jatav, the lower caste officer. How does Aayushman Khurana have such an awesome instinct for a marvellous script? He proves yet again that a great actor is one who understands a script and functions within it.
The protagonist laments how when he was a student, he was proud of the country but now it is in doldrums. It is thus imperative, he says, to find new words, new ways. Article 15 reflects this all and more. Do not miss it for anything.