Article 15 movie review: An important film

Comment(s) And more crucially, in the way it fashions its cop. To make films which toplines these subjects is a way of getting us to talk, and, in an ideal world, start some kind of a push-back against injustice and oppression, things we have dangerously begun taking for granted. Ranjan, of course, is primed to do exactly that. Ranjan is less vigilante hero, more a human being trying to grapple with the monstrosity unleashed on powerless people around him, his moustache coming off more a personal choice than a marker of male pride. The romantic thread between the cop and his activist lady-love (Talwar) is a filler, and the thriller-like chase to-find–the-missing-girl tone feels gratuitous. Some of the conflicts, especially between the policeman whose coming shakes up entrenched local power-centres, comprising political and religious figures and complicit cops, remind you of Prakash Jha’s films, especially Gangajal and Aarakshan, and, in a flash or two, of E Niwas’s Shool. The new man is an outsider who has no idea of the importance of the ‘santulan’ (‘balance’) that his subordinate Brahmdutt (Pahwa) lives by, and enforces with practiced entitlement. The arrival of IPS officer Ayan Ranjan (Khurrana) to take up his new posting in a UP village creates ripples. Advertising

‘Aukaat wahi hai jo hum dete hain’. Anubhav Sinha follows up 2018’s Mulk, which shone a searing light on the religious strife tearing the country apart, with Article 15. Advertising

The upright cop’s ‘ignorance’ of the ways of the world, is used as a classic device in which many of the `customs’ can be ‘explained’. The performances to watch out from come from Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa, both of whom played significant roles in Mulk: it looks as if Sinha is building a repertory of good actors who add heft to whichever films they are in. It is what is needed, call it what you will– a clarion call, a bugle, a shout-out. ‘Inn logon mein toh aisa hota hi rahta hai’, says a policeman dismissively, no point in getting all stirred up. Sinha set the bar high with Mulk, which brought back the words Hindu and Muslim, and everything they stand for, back into mainstream cinema. The difference is in the way the ‘Article 15’ ratchets up the complicity and complacence. Corrosive religious fundamentalism divides us; caste keeps us separated in perpetuity. Article 15 may have an unsatisfactory element or two, but as a film, it rushes in to tread forgotten grounds. Make it worth your time, because if we don’t watch it, who will? You see Khurrana’s initial tentativeness settling into resolve; it isn’t a showy performance, and it gets better as he goes along, though I wish he had come off more steely. I found a few strands unconvincing: Sayani Gupta’s Gaura, who plays the older sister of one of the missing girls, has a vivid presence, but is wrong for the part; Zeeshan Ayyub’s rebel Dalit leader’s comings-and-goings take away from the proceedings. Popular Photos

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There’s a lot that’s well done in Article 15, even though some of it is too on the nose, like a primer-explainer of ‘rural caste oppression and urban ignorance’. And Nassar, as the officer who knows how not to rock the boat, is excellent. The deaths of two girls in Badaayun (that image of the two lifeless salwar-kammez-clad bodies hanging from the tree is seared on to our eyeballs) ; the introduction of a saffron-clad ‘Mahantji’ who canvasses for votes from across the caste spectrum, and ‘wins with a thumping majority’; the flogging of Dalit youths in Una (which the film doesn’t make as much of as it could have; we see a glimpse, and then it’s gone). These were, and continue to be, headlines. And at places, it feels scattered because there’s too much going on. Ranjan is made to learn that Brahmins like Brahmdutt are on the top of the food chain, feeding upon those who belong to the ‘pichadi jaati’, whether they are his own colleagues like Jatav (Mishra), or the three missing young girls who dare to stand up for their rights. In Mulk the upholding of the Constitution by a judge in a court room comes at a climactic moment; here, it becomes the film. This line, spoken by a brute male character who exemplifies centuries-old class and caste and gender privilege, gets us to confront the deepest faultlines of modern India. Article 15, which comes less than a year later, is not as impactful as Mulk, but it is as important a film. On this side are the upper-castes and the untrammelled power that comes with it ; on the other, are the lowest of the low, the invisible, the Dalits; and in between is the heartbreaking divide which shapes our destiny in this country even today. Like Mulk, Article 15 lifts its chief plot points, and a pivotal character, from real life.