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Article 15 Is What Cinema Is Meant To Be

Subhash K . Jha

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Article 15

Starring Ayushmann Khurrana,Manoj Pahwa,Kumud Mishra

Directed by Anubhav Sinha

Rating: *****(5 stars)

In one word, Article  15  is spellbinding. It is everything that  cinema was  always meant to be. Thoughprovoking,  questioning,  disturbing and  ultimately cathartic  because the cop-hero(played with a simmering intensity by Ayushmann Khurrana) succeeds in getting  justice for the wronged.

In real life it is different, though. And in giving  the underdogs  of the film a satisfying closure director Anubhav Sinha(who has clearly turned a new leaf after  Mulk) and his co-writer(Gaurav Solanki) remind  us that  happy endings are  for  the movies, and  that we are getting one  here  because, hey, no matter how authentic  , Article 15 is a film after all.

Before  anything more,I must say it is hard to believe the level of  political credibility and  social conscientiousness Anubhav Sinha’s cinema has acquired after  MulkArticle 15goes  even further than Mulk in search of the truth that  lies underneath the veneer  of  fairness and justice for all.

Sinha’s stunning film says  a lot of things  we  don’t really want to hear about social  discrimination in   the cowbelt areas. Article 15 takes us  to  a dusty little town in  UttarPradesh  where  a sophisticated  liberal  cop(Khurrana) joins duty and  immediately  stumbles  onto a horrific caste  crime  whereby two girls are gangraped  and  hung by a tree.A  third girl is gone missing.  Sinhaimparts  to  the   search for the  girl a  ‘thriller’ element that in no way  over-dramatizes  the film’s  incessantly grim  mood.The director has no  songs even in  the background  because  there  is nothing to sing about. Not now. Not here.

In telling this hideously messy tale, Sinhamakes no effort to spare us  the details. The  caste  system and gender  discrimination  are so  deeply embedded in  the  social fabric of rural India  that men, or at least a  section of them, feel entitled  to  teach women a lesson if they don’t comply.

In my favourite  sequence of  this exceptionally  relevant drama the cop-hero interrogates  the  main accused  in thegangrape.Listen to the casual  almost blasétone in which the criminal tells the cop AyanRanjan why the  women they raped and killed so brutally had to be a  taught a lesson. I heard the same  unrepentant tone  in the Netflixseries Delhi Crime when  one of the rapists tells the  cop the girl had to be put in her place.

The  sequence is chilling for the way  the  masculine  mind  works in a male-dominated society. 

I would have  liked to see Khurrana’s rage  more  overtly expressed  in the scene above. But for reasons best known to this  brave actor and his braver  director, the performance  invariably holds back, checks  itself from losing its cool. It is the  sign of  a civilized  bureaucrat’s struggle  with his self  to cling to his core of humanism and  civility  while all around him the world crumbles  and collapses  into heap of  brutality  incivility .

The film has  an exceptionally astute sense  of  pitch  and tone.Though the  background score is a wee flashy,  Anubhav Sinha never over-punctuates his drama. He is  not afraid  to let the world he recreates  glisten with the sweat  of  inhuman conduct. The actors are all   so  clued into  the  director’s kingdom of  the damned that they  blissfully slip into their  roles with  no apprehension of tripping over the abyss of selfconscious  authenticity.

 Besides  Khurrana who  brings  a feeling of  bridled  indignation  to  every scene,the film’s other hero is Ewan Mulligan’s cinematography .It  doesn’t miss a single  detail in the ravage and chaos of  the heartland, so  unpolished and  yet  do untouched. The sound design is impeccable, catching incidental noises  in  the small town like butterflies in a moth jar.

Article 15 is a film that must be seen  by every Indian. Not because it tells us something  new. But because what  it tells  us  ought to become irrelevant to our society by now. But oppression, like the films on oppression, have a  knack of coming back when we  feel it is  gone.

At one point the hero confesses he needs  to  “unmess” the  mess  created  by social discrimination.It is  a mean  savage world out there for women and men  of meager income. That Anubhav Sinha takes  on  the onus  of  splitting wide open the debate  between the haves and have-nots is  no small achievement. The director deserves a  standing ovation for putting  the cinema of social awakening  back on screen without any selfcongratulation.

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