'Article 15' review: A compelling watch

Last Updated 29 June 2019, 06:55 IST

Hindi (U/A)

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kumud Mishra, Manoj Pahwa, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Isha Talwar, Sayani Gupta

Director: Anubhav Sinha

Rating: 4/5

Bob Dylan graces the opening credits of Article 15. Five minutes into the movie and as you still wonder why, Blowin' in the Wind starts playing in the background.

That's a warm welcome note to Ayushmann Khurrana, the foreign-returned IPS officer who has just set foot in the nothing-but-warm hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh.

'How many years can people exist/before they're allowed to be free?' lingers in the air as the film sinks its teeth into the stubborn layers of the rich-poor divide.

Khurrana is posted in Lalgaon, an eerily smoky village where caste is written on one's daily bread. The caste-challenged cop is tutored on the topic by everyone he greets. No touching, no eating from the same plate, no shadow of 'woh log'... The metro-bred woke cop gets so overwhelmed by his colleagues' cues that he asks them with the wonder of a nursery kid: So, what am I? "Brahmin, sir."

By the interval, Khurrana has sat under several Bodhi trees and earned his enlightenment. And he pastes it on the police station noticeboard — a copy of Article 15 of the Indian Constitution which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

From Ra.One to Mulk, Anubhav Sinha has had a fluctuating filmography. He peaks with Article 15, pricking the collective conscience with the Badaun gang-rape and murder case of 2014.

The two fragile bodies hanging from a tree expose the heights of caste divide, where a mere Rs 3 decides whether a Dalit must live or not.

Article 15 is about those invisible strata of society — the domestic worker, the manual scavenger, the farmer, the child labourer... But it is more about those privileged by birth, who have ensured through the pages of history that the poor will continue to be suppressed, exploited and killed at will. It all boils down to who is at the top of the food chain.

Ayushmann Khurrana is beautifully restrained and effective as Ayan. So are Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa, excelling in the many shades of a cop. But the one who brings a lump in your throat is Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, the Dalit revolutionary (give us more of him).

In the end, it's all about equality. But as someone asks, "If all are equal, who will be the king?" Khurrana's journalist-partner hammers it home, "Why need a king at all!"

(Published 28 June 2019, 15:23 IST)

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