“Shrinivas Siras was timid,” says R Raj Rao, professor of English at Pune University, on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) professor, on whose life director Hansal Mehta’s film `Aligarh’ which releases today is based.

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A still from the movie Aligarh
A still from the movie Aligarh

Presently the head of English Department at Pune University, Rao says, “My writings and straight forward approach has helped me in establishing myself as a dedicated academician. If my life were only about my sexuality, my students wouldn’t have respected me the way they do.”

Rishi in Johar’s Student of the Year, plays a gay principal drooling over a buff PT teacher
Rishi in Johar’s Student of the Year, plays a gay principal drooling over a buff PT teacher

Rao, who is due for retirement next year states simply, “I survived, Siras didn’t.” When Rao says that, he means surviving as an out gay professor in academia. Siras was sacked ostensibly because of his homosexuality. Author of a gay novel, ‘The Boyfriend’ in 2003, which is now being into a movie, Rao says that while Bollywood is very conservative and does not touch subjects that might put a dent in its revenue, movies like Aligarh are setting an example.

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R Raj Rao, head of English Department, Pune University
R Raj Rao, head of English Department, Pune University

“A movie like Karan Johar’s Dostana cannot be classified as a gay film, despite having cashed in on using that as a hook. How Hansal Mehta has treated Siras’s story remains to be seen.”

'Aligarh' team in an exclusive interview: "Indian society is less homophobic these days"

Ashley Tellis, Associate Professor, The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, Chennai
Ashley Tellis, Associate Professor, The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, Chennai

Ashley Tellis, the quirky gay rights activist who lectures on ‘same-sex politics’ at Chennai’s Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, known for tearing film director Karan Johar’s movies to shreds. In a newspaper review, Tellis had written about Student of the Year in a scathing piece called, ‘Shame on you, Karan Johar’ that, “It is because of films like Student of the Year that the homosexual has been reduced to a stock figure of the most homophobic, straight clichés in neo-liberal cinema,” Now he says about Aligarh, “Siras’s story was not about finding love, but of an old gay man, leading a double life, who was looking for sex and got punished for that. A movie on his life, glorified and romanticized to suit the palate of Indian audiences is in no way a tribute. Aligarh may be better than a sh***y film like Dostana, but it does not show the dark, true side of things, like the fight for basic, respectable living.”

Rao and Tellis’ opinions differ on what the movie will do for LGBT persons, but the community like everywhere else, does not always speak in one voice. The trenchant Tellis has his share of critics within the LGBT community, who label him as ‘self-victimizing.’ In an expletives-laden tirade, he said, “They can call me whatever the f**k they want, I am a victim, and I will f******g play the victim,” he signs off, in typical style.