Film: Article 15
Cast: Ayushmann Khurranna, Sayani Gupta, Kumud Mishra, Manoj Pahwa, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Hindi; U/A; 2 hours, 20 minutes
Stars: 4 Stars
Not all cops pounce like tigers. Some are like Ayushmann Khurrana aka Ayan Ranjan — confused, angry, willing to learn and unlearn, and change both himself and whatever he can around him.
In Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15, therefore, this khaki-wearing cop — who rides in a Scorpio, by the way, quite characteristic of the Hindi heartland — stands out simply because of this quality.
Broadly speaking, Article 15 is about Article 15 of the Indian Constitution that prohibits the state from discriminating against any citizen on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of the above. To many, the Article itself is problematic, given that it tries to counter and punish (negative) discrimination by imposing an Article based on (positive) discrimination. Instead of abolishing the caste system entirely, for instance, it categorises people into Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Castes and Minorities.
Yet, given this rich material, the film fails to address this dichotomy. And Article 15 makes an even bigger blunder by presenting the protagonist — a saviour of sorts for the Dalits — Ayushmann’s character as an upper caste Brahmin. Perhaps if the story was told from the perspective of Yadav (Kumud Mishra), Ayan’s subordinate in his police department, the son of a jhadudaar who battled caste to reach where he is today, it would have made a better narrative.
But that’s a very minor cut in the fabric of the film that can easily — and should — be ignored.
Article 15 starts with a tiny dose of the caste conflict when a lower caste Yadav stops an upper caste Ayan from eating a pakoda from his plate — not because of hygiene — but because ‘aap mere plate se nahin kha saktein, sir.’ The very next morning, you are shown the bodies of two Dalit girls dangling from a tree, dew-soaked, smeared in dry blood, near-rotting.
This immediately reminds you of the 2014 Badaun gangrape and all the reportage you read about it.
When your caste is your only crime. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
Even as the plot follows the real incident, interpersonal relations between colleagues in the police station actually bring out the problem of caste.
Where Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are not enough, where who is the 'more Brahmin Brahmin' or who is lower down the Shudra meter makes all the difference.
In terms of performances, while Ayushmann gets all the screen time he can possibly have, both Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa as Bhramadatt stand out, sometimes overpowering this hero-driven film with nuanced performances. Sayani Gupta (Gaura), a Dalit woman who was made to look particularly ghastly, and quite unnecessarily too, shone, especially in the emotional scenes. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (Nishad), an actor I feel never gets his real due, was outstanding yet again in a relatively short role of a Dalit neta — going from a confident rebel to a scared human being, who knew death is impending.
When he breaks down, you break down.
Anubhav Sinha keeps the audience on a tight leash, not allowing them to think too much, just bombarding them with imagery of what he wants them to see.
In my humble opinion, for the Indian audience that so ‘loved’ Kabir Singh last week, this is perhaps the right approach.
Apart from Ayushmann, Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa stand out in Article 15. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
Politics seeps very deep into Article 15's narrative and a particular exchange between a group of cops during a search mission about ‘kisko vote dete ho’ stands out in particular. One votes for ‘kamal’ because maa ne kaha hai, the other is team ‘haathi,’ another opted for ‘cycle’ that time when ‘haathi aur kamal mil gaye the.’ The Hindu bhagwa-wearing politician who seems to have adopted (only Hindu) Dalit issues as part of his election campaign — eating at a Dalit’s house for good photo-ops — reminds you of someone very distinctly. Perhaps too distinctly.
‘Yahan ka santulan mat bigariye,’ says Manoj Pahwa in a scene, pleading with Ayushmann. But this status quo has to change, both at ground level and in the Constitution. It is here, at this hunger for ‘balance,’ however unbalanced it may be, where Anubhav Sinha hits the hardest. And in the same breath, he restores the santulan of good cinema in Bollywood too — it was in turmoil last week.
I’m going with 4 stars out of 5.