He tried to find the essence of Dr Siras

He tried to find the essence of Dr Siras

Aligarh's writer

Aligarh, is slow in a way that it will take you through each expression of Dr Siras, as if it is Siras that the makers are celebrating. There is less anger in this film which is about a palpable issue of freedom to practise one’s own sexuality and is more about who died. Siras is not your family member nor your neighbour but his life and death, is a prime tool that is enough to cause sensitisation and agitation amongst those who feel for the issue. 

“The reportage of a young reporter, Deepu Sebastian, helped shape much of what Aligarh consists of,” says Apurva Asrani, the writer of the film. 

Three stories that were published from 2009 onwards, included the ‘sting’ and suspension of Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, from Aligarh Mulsim Unviersity (AMU), the second was Siras’s action against the University and his fight for his dignity and the third was his final conversation with Siras after he had won the case.

“Ironically Deepu was the last person to speak with him. I based the screenplay on these three news stories. It lent itself well to a three-act structure,” Asrani tells Metrolife.

Asrani explains how he made sure Siras’s pain was understood, which was done without any dramatisation with his writing. “The film is slow in parts and fast in other parts which feature Deepu and the case. How else do you show loneliness? Dr Siras’s solitude is an important aspect of the film, and solitude is never ‘fast’. It was important that audiences feel discomfort seeing Siras locked up in four walls,” he says. 

Along with Ishani Banerji, who brought the story idea to Hansal Mehta and him, Asrani used various news videos of Dr Siras as reference pointers and tried to find the essence of his character. He found out that Siras was a quiet man, often left to his own devices, but the moment someone showed interest in him, he would go on talking excitedly. “There was a childlike innocence in Dr Siras,” says Asrani.The film focussed on the human nature of Siras more than anything. So in spite him being the ‘other’, he comes close to the audience’s self spirit. 

“We also spoke to his friends and colleagues in Aligarh who helped us form a picture of the real Dr Siras. But there is only so much you can do on paper. The character you see on screen is one interpreted by Hansal Mehta from his own life experience,” says Asrani, who is the editor of Shahid.

Also, advertently, the depth of the character, his Marathi culture, his intricate mannerisms, they are all down to hard work of the ‘powerhouse’ that Manoj Bajpayee is.

Asrani explains how the name of the film is a metaphor for the real India. “A tier two city that is culturally rich, but still unable to confront its own hidden truths. The real story of our adaptation actually took place in Aligarh. It is all out there in the public domain. We wanted to show that while the vibrant and cultural city thrived in its glory outside, there was pain and injustice taking place inside locked doors and closets. It could happen anywhere in India,” he says.

The film textually displayed hard facts of the Supreme Court’s decision in 2009 on Section 377, declaring it as lawful. And paradoxically, Dr Siras’s fight began only after that. The talk was about him being gay, but Siras himself never admitted that, instead he often quoted that, it was a political matter in the department in AMU. After his death, in 2013, Section 377 was again made unlawful.

Asrani who wrote the moving piece, did not go on the sets at all. “Only once, to shoot for my cameo” added Asrani, who played Karan, Sebastian’s colleague. 

“Empathy, understanding and compassion are the few things I wanted the audience to take back, when I was writing. There are no villains in our films, be it Shahid, Citylights or Aligarh. The only adversary we show is lack of understanding. Sometimes society gets so caught up in its traditions and practices that it tramples on the spirit of innocents. But I firmly believe our society can evolve for the better, and become more inclusive,” says Asrani. 

Because of the theme, Aligarh also became a part of the ongoing film festival at I View World.

Asrani has collaborated with Mehta since 17 years. Aligarh is their sixth project together. He is currently working on a film and it is not as tragic. “It has a lot of energy and excitement in it and lends itself to music. Who knows, it might be called mainstream,” he says.      

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