Keep it slow – This could well have been the thought process of director Hansal Mehta and editor Apurva Asrani as they set about making Aligarh. The core idea of the film is good, the scenes carry good meaning to them as well and the performances are undoubtedly brilliant. The narrative chosen though is quite slow, well, in order to establish the loneliness of the central protagonist Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee). In the process, the film does stay on the route of festival circuit, hence reaching out to a real niche audience.
The film’s plot is already known to you if you are reading this review. Hence what becomes important is to mention the dynamics that come together to make it happen. For that one has to mention that the film’s treatment reminds one of the New Wave cinema that became prominent in the late 70s/early 80s. Hansal adopts that style and Manoj Bajpayee too gets into an avtar that would have made Naseeruddin Shah proud. The dialogue delivery and pauses have a meaning to them and it is remarkable to see the manner in which Manoj literally transforms himself into the part.
Rajkummar Rao is wonderful too in an important part and scores a hat trick of performances with Hansal after Shahid and Citylights. He gets the nuances of a Malayali boy well and doesn’t play his journalist part in a stereotypical fashion. Each of his scenes with Manoj are really well done.
What does turn out to be tad too long are some of the extended scenes featuring just Manoj where he is lost in his thoughts with no dialogues whatsoever. For example, the scene where he hums practically an entire Lata Mangeshkar song (Aapki Nazaron Ne Samjha) overstays its welcome by a distance. Moreover, one would have expected that the court scenes, especially with Ashish Vidyarthi in there, would be more interesting, even while staying realistic. However that doesn’t really happen. No wonder, even as Manoj is seen fighting in court for his dignity, somehow the impact isn’t fulfilling.
Nonetheless, what works is the core premise which neither makes a political statement nor does it get into a chest beating mode around sexual preferences of an individual. Instead, it asks a pertinent question around how it is nobody’s business to know what’s happening inside a person’s bedroom.
The film succeeds well in doing so, though how one wishes that the overall narrative could have been modulated to seek a far greater reach amongst the audience.