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This post played in my mind for a while before I decided to key it in. It released many thoughts like the atoms and molecules of thawed matter which I found it prudent to type out before they froze into a cold oblivion. Aligarh, the movie, opens on a foggy note carrying two people across the screen quietly against the backdrop of a 'civilized' urban landscape. The rickshaw stops at one of the those innocuous buildings, that bear the stamp of daily wear and tear, cracks and smudges that silently speak of the business of life. A life that trudges the many lines and boundaries drawn, without ever stopping to wonder about the existence of those demarcations.
The irony of it all is the location of the movie - a university that was established to spread education and prepare the mind to receive new ideas populating the world and deliberate on them. Here, it could be any of the universities in the country and not just be confined to Aligarh. Sadly, the spread of education over the years and reaching the 21st century, it has not made us accept or understand all the sections of people who provide the nuances to a society. These harmless nuances, or the deviance is what provides for a complete understanding of the human kind. The movie throws out many uncomfortable questions at all those who dismiss the 'other' choices as unnatural. It raises doubts over our tendency to rationalize our non acceptance and discomfort, hurriedly hiding behind the garb of morality. It also makes a mockery of our insecurity over imaginary issues that could rise out of the 'deviant'.
I also have been guilty of a creeping sense of unease with news reports of homosexual incidents. Maybe in our collective conscience, we all are unforgiving of choices that differ from those of our own. They are quickly glanced over lest we are pulled into sexual quagmire that could have the potential of disturbing our moral judgement. It is a shady part of our world which we would like to remain just there - in the shadows. The titillation and sensationalism done with, we move on to the next lot of news - news that would be more tangible and relevant for us normal beings while hoping that our children will not lay their eyes on such prints. The last one, I presume, is what drives most of our fears - to not be tainted by being a family member of one such 'deviant'.
And that's where, Aligarh the movie, finds fodder. Aligarh transcends beyond its location on the map. For, there is an Aligarh in all of us. An Aligarh that dictates the terms for the choices within the predetermined allowances. Aligarh is also the set of norms that have been instilled in us through the ages to perpetuate the idea of society; to herd the people within the set norms. What we forget is the herd is made up of individuals, rational thinking individuals who would like to choose an alternative. It could be an issue that we all relate to like Deepu Sebastian, constantly at loggerheads with his father, for the career choice he makes even within an acceptable area of choice. When the ambit of choice extends to sexual orientation, we clamp it down as forbidden and immoral. But who decides this? And why?
Society invades every private space like the camera barging beyond the walls that separate the public from the private. Society snakes in undue liberties like the land lady's daughter who uses Deepu's room in his absence for her tuition classes. Society pervades every thing to the extent that it dictates the terms by tagging everything with a label. And that is where another problem lies. As Siras laments bewildered when asked whether the man taped with him was his lover, " I have a problem with that...it's a beautiful word..." Even if I do forget the exact sequence of the words uttered by the character, its essence remains that of sadness of pinning labels to this flowing human emotion of love. While many of us would be too hemmed in to realize our distinctiveness, there would be a few who would question this very labeling - labeling every human activity, emotions in the correct prescribed combination and straitjacketing into aseptic shelves.
The building where Prof Siras stays is the dwelling of socially accepted couples, with families leading 'normal' lives. The building itself is in a heritage portal of learning that carries the heavy mantle of 'enlightening' and preparing the next generations. On the contrary, the education that seems rampant in the country has only helped to produce an assembly line of social products, raising more and more walls where 'others' are not welcomed. The 'others' may well continue to live in secrecy, cloistered in their loneliness and fear of persecution. I felt this highlighted in the scene where Siras nurses his drink cooped up in the ram-shackled officially allotted quarter, lost in the melody of Lata Mangeshkar's " aapki nazron ne samjha..." The depth of his pain glinting out of his dark eyes, eloquently captured by the camera and a resignation to a world of secrecy behind the walls. Prof Siras at least had a space to recede into till he was rudely pulled out of it.
Walls cannot hold back beasts of voyeurism or vested competitive politics. They will barge into bedrooms. They will be used to twist and implicate 'others' to further their own vested interests. They will stand in groups as curious onlookers to gather juicy tidbits for gossip sessions. They will also barge into funerals thrusting the mike into the bereaved family's face asking inane questions. They will not allow for dignity in death while the pyre crackles in the backdrop.
Unlike the other hijack drama I watched, wetting tissues and wiping the face before the lights went on, "Aligarh" the movie left me with a strange sense of hollowness. The movie set the thoughts rolling, introspecting and empathizing with the protagonist and the millions he stood for. Extending the thoughts to all the ' others' in our social sphere - why will we not allow for others to come out and feel the world in their own way? Why will article 377 not allow them to experience " the grass under the feet"? Why must we check for certain identification marks before we can accept them in our midst? At a metaphysical plane, is the Whole a homogenous cosmos or a cohesion of motley shades?