What Ayushmann Khurrana touches, turns to gold — both in terms of a fulfilling cinematic experience for the audience and the film’s eventual box office collection.
Last Friday’s release, Article 15, had a similar fate, and honestly, it wasn’t all that surprising. What was surprising, however, was that Article 15 survived the storm that was Kabir Singh, released exactly a week before — and surfaced victoriously.
“Sure, the Indian audience is clearly divided into those who will watch Article 15 and those who will opt for Kabir Singh instead. Yet, you have to understand that there’s also an overlap,” says Gaurav Solanki, writer of Article 15. “I, for one, don’t want to watch Kabir Singh. I know you shouldn’t judge a film by its trailer but I kind of did,” he shrugs his shoulders as we sit down with a cup of coffee for a quiet chat.
Of course, 'a quiet chat' with a Bollywood celeb is an oxymoron, and especially if you’re sitting with someone who’s just come out with a massive success — minting a staggering Rs 31.16 crore in India in just 6 days, and going on to pick up the Audience Award at the 10th London Indian Film Festival (LIFF). Intermittently interrupted, either by people coming over to congratulate him or by the rather wobbly table we sat at, we still dived deep into the film.
'We’ve become immune to news of atrocities on Dalits. That is why Ayaan needed to be someone like you and me.' (Photo: Gaurav Solanki/Facebook)
“The film has been appreciated — but there’s one aspect that’s garnered a lot of flak too,” Gaurav is candid. “Ayaan doesn’t suffer from the Brahmin saviour complex, as some would want you to believe. He’s not a saviour at all. In fact, he is only doing his job as a cop. Are we living in a time when doing one’s job translates into heroism?”
Ayushmann’s character Ayaan is a North Indian Brahmin male, who’s lived abroad all his life, only to take up the civil service on his father’s instructions. At the beginning of the film, he comes across as a victim in a bird’s eye view of India he’s always had, loving the country for its cricket and academic advances, and other candyfloss ‘development’ we believe in when a WhatsApp forward lands into our phones.
Ground reality is vastly different, as Ayaan finds out through the course of the film.
“Ayaan is entitled, he is sort of delusional about what India truly is, and to be honest, he doesn’t even feel connected to the people around him. Exactly how the urban audience — who were targeted with this film — feel sitting in their comfy homes,” added Gaurav.
So, in order to connect with the unconnected metro dwellers, we need to see caste conflict and its many atrocities through the eyes of the privileged? I probe.
'Ayaan is just doing his job. How is that heroism?' (Photo: YouTube screenshot/Still: Article 15)
“Yes. We needed a man who embodies the North Indian Brahmin privilege. Sure, we could have told the story from Jatav’s or Gaura’s point of view, but that would have kept the urban youth as detached as they are right now. We’ve become immune to news of atrocities on Dalits. A Dalit woman being raped and hanged doesn’t make it to the front pages — as we show in the film — but even in the inside pages, they’re swiftly overlooked. Putting you, me or someone as privileged as us in the centre of the mess, and then showing their journey as they un-mess it, was really the only way this film would have worked,” says Gaurav animatedly. The coffee in our cups is cold now, but the conversation has only just begun.
During storyboarding, while drawing all the various character sketches, Gaurav speaks of a point when he and Anubhav Sinha (the director) were convinced they should have a woman IPS officer as the protagonist. Why not? It obviously makes for a strong statement. But even as I get excited at the prospect, Gaurav rains on my parade, so to speak, adding, “Again, the moment you’re a woman in North India, you lose all your privilege.”
I couldn’t agree more.
“Also, a woman is always expected to be compassionate and feel for others. While a man can be indifferent — like Ayaan was at the beginning of the film. Which is also why his arc was so perfectly completed by the end of the film,” adds Gaurav.
‘You should watch Kabir Singh. I have a feeling you’ll have a lot to say about the need for women to be compassionate and feel, even in the hands of delirious abusers,’ I quip.
“No, still not convinced. The trailer was enough.”