Article 15

Article 15

As the opening scenes scrolled across the screen, my first thought was that Anubhav Sinha’s drama was a period piece, but it didn’t take long to realise that the shocking events portrayed are straight out of today’s newspapers. The old-fashioned cars and equally archaic attitudes seem to be a blast from the past, but the reality is that the attitudes and events portrayed in the film are occurring every day, and not just in India either. The film follows new IPA officer Ayan Ranjan as he investigates the disappearance of three girls in a village in Uttar Pradesh. The police are disinterested, largely because the girls are from a lower caste and there is little incentive for them to solve the crime. On the contrary, once two of the girls are found hanging from a tree, there appears to be more gain in framing the girls’ fathers rather than risking their corrupt allies in a full-blown investigation. With an excellent cast, insightful dialogue and an uncomfortable and confronting storyline, Article 15 is a challenging depiction of the problems faced by a large number of people every day of their lives.

Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a young IPA officer posted to Lalgaon in Uttar Pradesh, where he is taking over from the retiring long-term incumbent. The film opens with Ayan in his sleek car travelling smoothly towards Lalgaon while he chats on the phone to his girlfriend Aditi (Isha Talwar). He mentions the clean air and how beautiful the countryside is while his driver relates tales from folklore, but his arrival at the village quickly plunges Ayan back into real life. Outside of the cocoon of his car, Lalgaon is far outside Ayan’s previous experience. This is an area where Ayan’s privileged upbringing works against him, where he doesn’t understand the social hierarchy or how deeply local prejudice is entrenched, and where his principles that probably seemed so straight forward in the city, suddenly have to deal with the day-to-day reality of life in rural India. The soundtrack over Ayan’s arrival is Bob Dylan’s blowing in the wind – the words make sense once you realise that this experience will either be the making of Ayan, or it will leave him disillusioned and broken. Either way, he will understand what kind of a man he really is.

Ayan is at loggerheads with the senior police officer Bhramadatt (Manoj Pahwa) almost immediately as the police brush off the families of the missing girls. Gaura’s (Sayani Gupta) sister is one of those the missing and she is able to convince Ayan of the seriousness of the situation, explaining that the missing teenagers had gone to ask for a wage rise of 3 rupees. Ayan is sure that something sinister has happened, but he is hindered by his lack of understanding of the caste system and of how it affects everything in the small community. For him it’s simple: the girls are missing – register the case. But for the police who have to live in the community while senior officers come and go, it’s more about balancing the different factions and appeasing those who are willing and able to pay their bribes. The girls are simply too low in the social order to warrant any notice and worse still, their lives are considered disposable and therefore of no value. The situation gets worse when the bodies of two of the girls are found the next morning and the autopsy shows they had both been raped. Bhramadatt tries to intimidate the doctor (Ronjini Chakraborty) but Ayan gets to her first and manages to secure her support for an investigation which becomes ever more dangerous, eventually leading to Ayan’s suspension and own investigation by CBA officer Panikar (Nassar).

Ayan’s gradual realisation of the true consequences of casteism and the deeply ingrained prejudices is one of the key points of the film. He arrives in Lalgaon aware that issues of caste and inequality exist as abstract injustices that he has read about but which have never touched him personally. But being drawn into the hunt for the men who have raped and murdered the girls, leads Ayan to new realisations and opens his eyes to the hierarchical squabbles all around. Gaura provides Ayan with the information that he needs to begin to understand the deep social divide, while conversations with Jatav (Kumud Mishra), a police officer who himself is a Dalit, and Gaura’s partner, revolutionary leader Nishad (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), provide further insights. Nishad is the villagers champion, well-educated and articulate, but unable to gain any ground with the authorities dues to his low caste status. Jatav on the other hand believes in working with the system but is hampered by his colleagues’ inability to see past his low social status.

While Ayan conducts his investigation, events in the background echo real events and provide further evidence of prejudice and discrimination. One of the local politicians is attempting increase his supporter base and gain the Dalit vote by supporting a Brahmin-Dalit alliance. But there is no real benefit for the villagers in his proposed plans and Nishad and his supporters see the alliance as a betrayal of the community rights, leading to clashes and a Dalit strike. This gives one of the most memorable and effective scenes in the film that drives home the truly terrible working conditions for these people. As the strike takes hold the sewage in the police station starts to back up and overflow into the streets. As Ayan arrives one morning, there is a geyser of foul brown water fountaining up into the police yard, which resolves into a man surfacing from the drain with a load of the sewage material that has been blocking drainage. After dumping this he resubmerges. I just couldn’t believe that someone would have to do such a dangerous job without a protective suit, breathing apparatus and a safety line. Honestly, for me this is the most horrific and confronting scene in the film – even more shocking that the hanging bodies of the girls and the later revelations about their murder – mostly because no-one even seems to notice that this man is risking his life in such terrible conditions just to clean out a drain. With this one scene Anubhav Sinha seems to have captured everything that is wrong with the current system, and the murders are simply the extra dressing on the top.

What I like is that Ayan isn’t the all-conquering hero who storms in and solves the issue while the locals watch on dumb-founded. He makes mistakes and at times seems completely clueless about what is happening. It’s the local people who have the knowledge and impetus to find out what happened, Ayan just provides them with an authority to work under and a framework for the investigation. I also like that no-one is pictured as being all good or all bad, but simply as normal people who have their own share of faults (although perhaps Bhramadatt really is just evil!). With Article 15, Anubhav Sinha seems intent on educating his audience, pointing out just how the atrocities we read about can happen when human life is held so cheaply. But at the same time he’s not accusatory nor is he preaching, but rather simply pointing out what is, and then letting us judge these problems for ourselves. Ewan Mulligan’s excellent cinematography adds atmosphere and although Mangesh Dhakde’s background score is at times overly intrusive, for the most part the music is effective.

As someone who has only ever seen India’s caste system from the outside and who has no real understanding of the societal problems, this film is a real eye opener. The everyday situations I have seen when working in medical camps are explained so clearly here, and perhaps this film should be required viewing for anyone planning to travel to India. There is mysticism here along with the undeniable beauty of the countryside that sits uneasily beside filth, corruption and pollution. But the real triumph is in the depiction of the different characters who represent the broad spectrum of society and illustrate that there is some good and some bad in us all. A powerful and well-made film, Article 15 is not easy viewing but it is memorable and incredibly effective in getting its point across. Highly recommended for excellent performances and for shining a light on real social problems that have no easy answers.

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Bangalore Days

Bangalore Days

Bangalore Days is a gem of a film, written and directed by Anjali Menon, who was also responsible for the excellent Ustad Hotel. The film follows the lives of three cousins after they each move to Bangalore for different reasons and despite the almost three hour run time, it’s a completely absorbing watch. The young actors are the highlight, but the plot for each is perfectly developed and fits neatly into the overall story, so that there is a ‘fly on the wall’ feeling of watching real lives unfold. Even the slightly clichéd drama that forms the final climax is compelling, although the ending is never really in any doubt. Beautifully developed characterisations, a clever storyline and gorgeous cinematography all add up to make Bangalore Days a must watch film.

The three cousins, Krishnan PP aka Kuttan (Nivin Pauly), Divya (Nazriya Nazim and Arjun (Dulquer Salmaan) have been friends since they were children when they spent their summers together in the family’s ancestral home. Divya is a good student who has dreams of completing an MBA while Kuttan achieves his desire of escaping rural Kerala when he lands a job as a software engineer in Bangalore. Meanwhile Arjun seems content to drift, working at night as a graffiti artist and using his mechanical skills to work on motorbikes. As the film unfolds, more of Arjun’s past comes to light, including his unhappy childhood following his parents’ divorce. All of this has made him something of a rebel and disinclined to settle in any one spot or profession.

Divya’s parents decide to get her married quickly to counteract an inauspicious horoscope, firmly ending her dreams of study although the prospect of moving to Bangalore after the marriage is an enticing incentive. But things don’t appear too favourable when the prospective groom Das (Farhadh Faasil), reveals he was in a previous serious relationship and isn’t sure if he is over it. Divya’s main reason for going ahead seems to be the family dog’s acceptance of Das, and to be fair, I can completely understand her reasoning. Surely anyone who is a dog-lover cannot be a bad person? Throughout the film Anjali Menon small touches like this to successfully develop the characters and illustrate small traits that become important later. It’s simply done, but very effective and adds to the realistic feel of the characters.

The songs by Gopi Sundar are another highlight and this one sums up the different personalities and the relationship between the cousins perfectly.

Needless to say when Divya moves to Bangalore  with her new husband the situation does not improve and it’s not long before she is bored and resentful. Luckily Arjun has also moved to Bangalore to complete the confluence of cousins and is working for a Motocross bike team. With her husband’s indifference as motivation, Divya spends her days and nights out with Arjun and Kuttan, further increasing the distance between her and Das.

At the same time Kuttan has found what may be the love of his life in the form of air hostess Meenakshi (Isha Talwar). Although it’s completely baffling as to why she would be interested in the conservative Kuttan, she quickly takes him in hand, giving him a total make-over in the process. As to be expected, it doesn’t end well, but there is some lovely comedy and genuine warmth in the relationship which allows Kuttan to explore his less conservative side. Arjun is also in love, first of all with the voice of RJ Sarah (Paravathy Menon) and her positivity, but this quickly develops further once he sees her in person. There is a lovely moment where, after Sarah accuses Arjun of following her, which to be accurate is exactly what he has been doing, he eventually responds that rather than following, he would like to walk with her. It’s very sweet and the relationship between Arjun and Sarah develops into a full scale romance with plenty of sparkage between the characters.

What makes the film work so well is the excellent casting and the outstanding performances from all the actors. Nazriya Nazim is perfect in her role and even more impressive here than she was in Raja Rani. Her reactions and emotions are perfectly nuanced and her easy camaraderie with her cousins is well portrayed. Farhadh Faasil is also excellent as her distant husband with an unresolved past and his emotional delivery as his character gradually thaws is superb. Perhaps because the two actors are partners in real life, the depiction of their marriage is also very well done and the relationship is completely believable throughout.

Even better though is Dulquer Salmaan who gets his portrayal of a rather bitter but still compassionate man spot on. His relationship with his cousins is perfectly casual with plenty of chemistry that really makes them seem like a family. His expressions and body language speak more than the dialogue when he is with Sarah and he makes Arjun a more sympathetic character than I expected given his opening montage.  Dulquer’s character is well written but his performance takes it to the next level and I think this is the best I have seen him so far. Nivin Pauly has a more difficult job since Kuttan is self-restrained, almost staid and nowhere near as exciting as Arjun. However he still does a fantastic job with the character, particularly in the interactions with his father (Vijayaraghavan) and mother (Kalpana), both of whom are also excellent and perfectly cast. There are many levels to his character and to his relationship with both his cousins and the rest of his family that I don’t think I fully appreciated on my first watch, but become more apparent on repeated viewing. Kuttan’s character provides most of the comedy, but his serious nature is a perfect foil to the more impulsive Divya and rebelliousness of Arjun.

Although the film focuses on relationships, family, community and the three love stories, there is plenty more happening in the background. The film interposes the traditional values of rural India with the reality of modern city life, starting with the idea that community is lost in the city. However the complexities of this idea are further developed as Divya makes her own community wherever she goes, while Das carries his loneliness around with him as a shield. All the characters are looking for their own form of escape, some more literally than others, and all have personal challenges to overcome before reaching their goal. Anjali Menon develops the narrative through the different personalities and their attitudes, allowing the characters themselves to become the story and relegating the action to second place for much of the film.  It works beautifully well and it’s refreshing to have a film about marriage and relationships that is ultimately so optimistic and hopeful. Bangalore Days is an easy film to enjoy and I thoroughly recommend it as a modern tale of relationships. 4 ½ stars.