article 15director: anubhav sinhacast: ayushmann khurrana, manoj pahwa, kumud mishra, sushil pandey, sayani gupta, mohammad zeeshan ayyub score: 4.5/5
the publication was a punishment. Ayan Ranjan, a new officer in the Indian Police Service, the inside of his shirt crisp as a new bank note, readily admits why he was sentenced to the inhospitable badlands of Uttar Pradesh. Ranjan had agreed with a superior officer without sounding officious enough, had said “great, sir”, a man who did forget his one line, and the perceived insubordination was enough to lead him to a world where half the people don’t touch. the other half.
article 15, anubhav sinha’s scathing film about the indignities supported by the caste system in modern india, doesn’t play cold turkey. Inspired by the real-life Badaun murders, and a moving tribute to Alan Parker’s 1988 procedural thriller Mississippi Burning, this film features cops hushing up the murder and gang rape of three 15-year-old girls because they belong to a lower caste. we and them. it’s a dark, unforgiving, essential film, spouting truths we choose to forget.
also see | public review of article 15 | Ayushmann Khurrana | anubhav sinha
“welcome to page 7 india,” says ranjan’s wife, when he calls and texts her, eyes wide with newfound outrage at the plight of dalits and the oppressed in central india. reports of these atrocities are relegated to the center of the little-read newspaper, far from the front pages and sports pages. Ayan, a young Brahmin who likes his single malt whiskey and walks around with a holster sticking out smoothly from under a well-cut jacket, feels as strange in this place as an Englishman. The cops under him are eager to make sure he’s not some dumb young man out to change the system after watching too many rogue cop movies starring Ajay Devgn. “they are transferred”, old informed policemen growl, “while they kill us”. us and them.
Written by Gaurav Solanki and Sinha, the film reeks of honesty. It is eerily shot by Ewan Mulligan, who slips through the shadows to focus on sharp details: the breakfast prepared before a murder, the everyday banality of the crime scene, and, most unforgettable, a man cleaning a dirty black drain. . he cleans up our world because we won’t do it ourselves.
As policemen plod through a marsh, Ranjan asks about politics, and the men good-humouredly state why they vote for the Elephant one year and the Cycle the next, and for the parties their mothers told them to always vote for. Rebels use Whatsapp, while cops keep tabs on activism by seeing what messages are being forwarded. The filmmakers cannily use texting to educate the leading man, the messages from his level-headed wife becoming the voice in his head. We do not need a hero, she insists. We just need people to stop waiting for a hero.
ayushmann khurrana plays ranjan with unavoidable forehand. his elitist outrage as he barks orders gets things done, but also distances him from the cops who respond to him. in one notable scene, he asks the police what his (and his own, since he has the privilege of not knowing) place in the caste hierarchy, and the distinctions between caste and kayastha are maddening. one of them says that he is a jaat and that he was “normal” but has now been given another backward class status, while jaats in other states have not. this is illegal ranjan asking them their caste i mean. not the division, but the pronouncement of it.
khurrana hits the nail on the head, is constantly tormented and, based on the background of all his previous films, is immensely relatable. he eschews ostentation to stay true to the role, a leading man aware that he will be seen as a high-caste savior, aware that this is not his role.
Sinha surrounds him with a superb ensemble. Manoj Pahwa is frighteningly good as a higher-caste cop. Berating a junior, he clenches his teeth so hard it feels like he doesn’t trust himself to open his mouth, for fear of biting someone of a lower status. Top performances come also from Sushil Pandey as a lowly policeman who seems like the nicest bloody guy; Kumud Mishra as the son of a sweeper who is now a policeman (yet relentlessly reminded of his background); and Sayani Gupta as sister to one of the missing girls, her gigantic plaintive eyes an indictment of India itself.
the fickle mohammad zeeshan ayyub plays a revolutionary, a rebel who cannot afford to lose hope because it has become his face. he gets the most memorable lines in the movie, painfully confessing how he’s been so romantic that he runs out of romance. with the horrors surrounding him, it felt criminal for him to smile at a girl he loves. in the land that allows us and them, all pleasure feels guilty.
what do you do when the system is bad? no disclosures here. we have read about such cases, we have sighed over these horrors. Article 15 is not a movie looking for easy answers. instead, it’s a reminder that we already know the questions, but we don’t ask them enough. not good, sir.
(The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author. They do not reflect the views of the Indian era.)
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