The art of Article 15

Published: Jul 14, 2019, 05:52 IST | Rahul da Cunha | Mumbai

Many thoughts crossed my mind while watching this pacy, crime thriller. Here they are, in no particular order of consciousness

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul da CunhaAnd so, to my film of the decade, Article 15. To call it a hard-hitting hit sounds a tad oxymoron-ish, especially in 'Let's play it safe' Bollywood. But there it is, this powerfully-messaged movie is a certified box office success. Many thoughts crossed my mind while watching this pacy, crime thriller. Here they are, in no particular order of consciousness:

1. Article 15 combines political cinema with popular fare. It's the first time I've seen this: no chest-thumping, very little preaching. Do we perhaps have a template, where current themes can be gift-wrapped in a way that's potboiler-ish enough to be entertaining for the family? The decision to package the theme using the genre of a pacy, crime thriller? Totally top drawer.

2. Clearly, director Anubhav Sinha and writer Gaurav Solanki had pressures. Their dark noir tale about caste discrimination is neighboured by Toy Story 4 and Spiderman: Far From Home in multiplexes. Through the eerie silences (yes, there are moments when the popcorn-munching stops), you can hear the muffled sounds of both blockbusters through the soundproof walls, and you're reminded what today's serious filmmakers are dealing with.

3. In the parallel cinema years of the '70s, Messrs Saeed Mirza, Ketan Mehta, Shyam Benegal, Gautam Ghosh and Co had shoestring budgets, but ironically were free from the shackles of box office pressure. They could tell their stories earnestly and uncompromisingly. They flew under the radar, housed in Akashwani Theatre (just off Mantralaya), or the odd matinee show at Eros, but their work sadly, was delinked from the masses.

4. But today, how do you tell your story about class distinction amidst the chomping of nachos, devoid of naach-gaana and still get a studio to buy into your vision? Perhaps, one definite solution is to pepper the screenplay with humour. The second is to cast Shri Ayushmann Khurrana.

5. Khurrana is the new Naseeruddin Shah. If Shah was the poster boy of the parallel cinema movement, Khurrana is the new age Hindi belt hero. The man's got the acting chops and the chutzpah to interest the studios. He's helmed a wonderful spate of films that have come out of the vast North: Badhaai Ho, Bareilly ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, all wonderful dramatic stories, solidly rooted in reality.

6. Does Article 15 have flaws? Sure, the message sometimes untangles itself from the subtle fabric of the screenplay, and you go, "Uh no, are we going to have a bit of soap box pedantics?" But then, we're rapidly back on track. Frankly, you take your purist view off the table and look at the bigger picture, the larger achievement. And you have to applaud.

7. In the cinematography of Evan Mulligan—we have an Irishman capturing the marshlands of interior Uttar Pradesh, often lighting a scene with only the headlights of a cavalcade of jeep headlights—the disengagement from the anger and the angst, and to focus primarily on the aesthetic is there. Sometimes, it needs an outsider to be objective.

8. If I ever gather the courage to write a movie, this one will have been the starting point, the inspiration. No question.

9. Go see Article 15. The stench and smell stay with you for awhile.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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