Aligarh is perhaps one of the best queer movies offered by the Indian cinema. Read further to understand what makes the character of Dr Srinivas Ramchandra Siras stand out…
At a time when the LGBTQIA+ population of the country was craving to see more of their likes on the big screen cinema, Hansal Mehta, along with scriptwriter Apurva Ansari, presented to his audience, Aligarh, in 2015. Amidst comical movies like Dostana and Partner where Queer characters were represented purely for comical relief, Aligarh, starring renowned actors, Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkumar Rao, was elixir to the thirsty population. The movie follows the struggles of an elderly Marathi professor of Aligarh Muslim University, Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras (Bajpayee), after he was suspended for having a sexual relationship with a male rikshaw-puller.
The true essence of this movie lies in the intricate details of Siras’ character that make him larger than his sexuality; that make him a hopelessly romantic poet. In a conversation with the news reporter Deepu (Rao), Siras asserts, “Poetry shabdon mei kahan hoti hai? Kavita shabdon ke antaraal mei milti hai. Fir log apne apne hisab se apna apna arth nikaalte rehte hain- according to their age, maturity” (Poetry isn’t found in words, but in the pauses and silences that leave room for readers to interpret their own meanings that varies with their age and maturity). Siras himself appears as a form of poetry with his long stretches of silences that reflect his own solitude and despondency.
Siras is often seen sitting alone in his room, draped with a shawl, sipping whiskey and humming to the tunes of Lata Mangeshkar playing on his old radio. Aap Ki Nazaron Ne Samjha Pyaar Ke Kabil Humein plays as his feet casually dance to its rhythm and his eyes can be seen lost in a bittersweet melancholy, perhaps reminiscing his time with the rickshaw-puller, who’s seeming gaze accepted him for who he was.
His sheer loneliness is further reflected in his dialogue, “Bahar ka admi mana jata hu. Shaadi-shuda logon ke beech akela rehta hu, Urdu bolne wale sheher mein Marathi seekhata hun” (I’m considered an outsider. I live alone among married couples, and I teach Marathi in an Urdu-speaking community).” However, despite being the head of the Linguistics’ Department of the university, Siras continues to be absolutely humble and shy, unable to swallow any recognition he receives.
Another rather fascinating aspect to Siras’ character is his demurral to label his sexual orientation. He continually questions these tags that are assigned to him insisting that his feelings are too complex to be coined under merely three letters- “koi meri feelings ko teen aksharon mein kaise samajh sakta hai?” Oscar Wilde, too, once said, “to define is to limit”. Siras, above and before everything, is a human, and demands to be respected as one.
The biggest challenge with Aligarh was to write a character who, despite being in a sexual relationship with another man, refused to wear the many tags of sexuality. He belonged to a generation where the words ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ did not exist, a place where Professor Siras has to beg society to leave him to define himself,”wrote Apurva Ansari for Bangalore Mirror.
Siras’ character provides a fresh perspective towards understanding not merely the concept of sexuality, but also the true meaning of love. He reiterates the beauty and tranquillity of the term “love” and accuses the younger generation of having misunderstood the idea, moulding it into something that may be perceived as “dirty”. Siras, instead, describes it as “an uncontrollable urge”. He addresses the rickshaw-puller as “mera dost” (my friend), perhaps implying that love is nothing more than a desperate bond of friendship. After all, we’ve all learned from our dear old Rahul that pyaar dosti hai (love is friendship).
After seeing him play rather daunting roles in movies like Rajneeti and Gangs of Wasseypur, Bajpayee’s performance in Aligarh is a refreshing change. He doesn’t overdo Siras’ intricate character and, soon enough into the film, perhaps entirely becomes him. At the age of 45, he manages to perfectly assimilate the character of a 60 year old “boomer”, leaving the audience thoroughly satisfied.
Feature Image Credits: Maps of India