Last year (2018) saw Ayushmann Khurrana and his films – Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho – break the clutter of mega-budget movies. They paved their way to win stars from the critics and hearts of the audience, while raking in the moolah at the box office. Meanwhile, director Anubhav Sinha’s last directorial Mulk earned him accolades as a filmmaker. So naturally the two coming together for Article 15 already makes it a much-looked forward to film.
More so, it’s a film that delves into the serious issue of caste discrimination. It is set against the backdrop of a case reminiscent of the Badaun rape case, where two teenage girls were gang-raped and then brutally murdered in 2014. With this film, Bollywood also gets one more ‘hero in khakee’. So does Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 live up to the expectations? And does Ayushmann Khurrana shine in his role as a cop? Read on to find out!
What Article 15 is all about:
‘How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?…’ The song Blowin’ in the Wind, is heard playing in the background as IPS officer Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana) is enroute to Lal gaon, a small village in the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh, where he has been posted as the new SP. Little does he know that the lyrics of the Bob Dylan number would soon ring true for him.
Meanwhile, he is also busy messaging his city-based girlfriend Aditi (Isha Talwar), who is a Human Rights activist and also his voice of reason. It is clear early on that the city-bred and Europe-educated Ayan has little experience of ever having been posted in a small village and largely has an outsider’s view. As he moves further away from the city, the fresh air is not the only thing he starts soaking in.
Along the way, he also soaks in the fact that inspite of the country’s progress, caste-discrimination is very much a reality of the society at large. And it is this reality that along the course of his journey keeps tightening its grip on his mind. He tries to come to terms with how deep-rooted this evil really is! A welcome party arranged in his honour further establishes the system driven not just by hierarchy and bureaucracy, but also caste-ism. This is evident in the way the surnames are highlighted more than the names as they introduce each other.
Even before he can settle in the new posting, he comes across his first case when bodies of two missing teenage girls are found hanging from a tree. The girls, he learns, belonged to the ‘dalit’ community. The senior policeman Brahmadatt Singh (Manoj Pahwa) insists on it being an open-and-shut case of honour killing. But the families of the girls reveal the truth. They tell him how two dead girls and another girl, Pooja Rani who is still missing had irked the local contractor by asking for a raise of three rupees as labour charges. Pooja’s sister Gaura (Sayani Gupta) requests Ayan to look into the matter and find her missing sister. It is obvious that Brahmadatt is involved in covering up the matter as the accused is not only well-connected, but also belongs to a higher caste.
There is an open violation of the Article 15 of the Constitution of India that clearly prohibits any form of discrimination on basis of caste, religion, community, race or gender. Here begins Ayan’s struggle to find the culprits amidst a system streamlined by caste politics and discrimination, corrupt officials and politicians ready to milk the caste divide.
Ayushmann Khurrana doles out his career-best performance yet, acing the role as the SP effortlessly. From the most-taut moments to showcasing his helplessness, he covers the gamut of emotions with nuanced ease without resorting to overtly ‘heroic’ gestures or actions. He gets under the skin of his character and stays there right till the very end. We also like the way his character is so well-defined and tackles it all sensibly, rather than emotionally. He is ably supported by a strong cast of character actors. Manoj Pahwa, Isha Talwar, Mohammed Zeeshan as the community rebel Nishad, Kumud Mishra as SI Jatav, Sayani Gupta as Gaura and Nasser as CBI head Panicker are impressive and impactful in their roles. The rest of the cast also excel in their brief roles.
The film has been shot realistically. Anubhav Sinha’s direction is top-notch. He shows the finesse of a brilliant filmmaker and shows his well-researched insight and grip of the issue he has at hand. He handles such a disturbing subject minus the dramatics and yet keeps the tone and flavour mainstream with ease. There are no statistics forced on the audience pre or post the film credits to shock them or sensationalise the rape issue. To the director’s credit, it has been handled rather sensitively. Some scenes make a haunting impact and stay with you long after.
One of the biggest plus points for the film lies in the fact that it is not being preachy at any point nor is it offering a solution. Instead, what it does is spark a conversation. It is a film that all Indians should watch and face the ugly truth of the society. The film also takes a hard look at the condition of the sanitation workers. The entire issue of girls and women being raped to ‘teach them a lesson’ or punish the family hits you hard. Extremely gritty in parts, the film is equally gripping with the way the story unfolds. The equation between Gaura and Nishad lends a highly emotional touch.
Inspite of the seriousness of the topic, the film is infused with light-hearted humour too. The dialogues (Gaurav Solanki and Sinha) are one of the best we have heard in years. At one point, Nishad talks about being called a ‘harijan’ or a ‘bahujan’ when all they want to be called and acknowledged is as a ‘jan’ (individual) and be addressed as the ‘Jana Gana Mana’ of the national anthem! There is another dialogue that Brahmadatt tells Dr Malti, who is conducting the post-mortem and finds out that the girls have been raped. He suggests that she change the report and if she feels emotional, she could always write poems on Facebook to vent it all out. This is again a reflection of how social media activisim is the norm these days. The dialogues hit hard when required and evoke laughter in those light moments.
The tone of the movie is consistent. In fact, we particularly loved the extensive use of metaphors used to show the true conditions. Like in the scene where Ayushmann walks in all the muck while making up his mind to fight the system and clean it no matter how dirty it is. Even Zeeshan’s character Nishad is strongly based on Chandrashekhar Azad. The freedom fighter and revolutionary was killed by the Britishers for rebelling against the system. But Nishad is killed by the corrupt officials for rebelling against the upper castes.
Technically, the film scores an A plus in almost all departments. The film is brilliantly and beautifully shot by DoP Ewan Mulligan. The music works well in the film’s context. The casting department gets a thumbs-up. The costume and sets are all realistic too. The editing (Yasha Ramchandani) is crisp at 130 minutes of the run time.
The film is too idealistic in parts. This leads to an easy way out when it comes to finally bringing the criminals to justice. Also we have seen similar villainish characters in the past. A Godman running an ashram, the upper-caste contractor, and a few more stereotypical characters! The film may not resonate with the young city crowds who have never had to deal with these issues from a close quarter. So, it may not exactly hit home with the youngsters, even though the film is well-made.
The film is a gritty and gripping drama that reflects the ugly truth of the society. There are some heart-wrenching moments that compel you to think of the conditions that some people are forced to live in and the value of their lives is non-existent. It is okay to feed a dog, but not okay to touch someone from the so-called lower caste. It is truly disturbing! The film pushes you to think along those lines and question them.
A topic like this does not appeal to all. But the mainstream treatment makes the film worth a watch for all cinema lovers! It doesn’t weigh heavy on your mind inspite of the serious topics involved. It offers enough twists and turns to keep you engrossed and entertained all through. Ayushmann’s performance and Anubhav Sinha’s ace direction catapult Article 15 to our list of must-watch movies! As for Ayushmann’s cop act… Well, may the force be with him!