Ayushmann Khurrana’s procedural crime thriller ‘Article 15’ is bold, bleak and bludgeons you with the indignity behind caste divides in India.
There may be Indian laws in place declaring that it’s illegal and unfair to segregate a person based on their religion or caste, but the reality isn’t as utopian or simple.
Director Anubhav Sinha and his talented team never try to gloss over the imperfect socio-political Indian landscape where human rights are compromised on a daily basis.
The scenes that highlight the segregation is downright repulsive, but you just can’t take your eyes and mind off it.
‘Article 15’ is a tense tale of a scrupulous senior police officer Ayan Ranjan (Khurrana) investigating the murder of two teenagers in rural Uttar Pradesh. It’s a hate crime where rape is used as a weapon to control the lower-caste villagers and suppress them.
Khurrana, who gives a wonderfully restrained performance as the anglophile cop Ayan, is achingly brilliant. His frailties as a law enforcement officer trying to do the right thing in a village where caste system is normalised is disturbingly real.
He goes against the grain here and his hauntingly moving performance as someone trying to make sense of the complicated caste system in India is a homage to realism.
At no point does he behave like a quintessential anti-establishment Bollywood hero who can sing and sermonise with equal power. He surrenders completely to his role that requires him to hold back the studied histrionics.
It isn’t just Khurrana who is blazingly good. Seasoned actors such as Kumud Mishra, as the servile police officer born to a lower caste, and the vitriolic corrupt police officer Manoj Pahwa are spot-on.
In a telling scene, Pahwa implores Ayan Ranjan not to arrest the culprits as cops don’t have impunity against higher caste, privileged villains who find no shame in raping and killing women in his village.
Pahwa’s character is loathsome, but he is also human. Every character in this film has a backstory to tell and they are not always pleasant.
Actress Sayani Gupta as the underprivileged Gauri and Isha Talwar as Ranjan’s conscience keeper are well cast.
Since it’s an issue-based film, there was a danger of it careening towards sermonising. But Sinha and his superb cast never go down that treacherous route. A scene that would remain with me is the one where Khurrana explains the murder and rape to his naive, wide-eyed house help. The irony where the virtuous Ranjan doesn’t think twice about hiring an underage girl as his cook underlines his own prejudices too.
The film explores the touchy subjects of empathy and apathy without sitting judgement on it. At no point does ‘Article 15’ tell you what to think, it shows you instead.
The ominous air of gloom and doom is all pervasive in this film. The terrain of UP has been beautifully captured and aids the storytelling.
‘Article 15’ sobers you up instantly, but it also makes you think about Indian’s complicated social segregation based on accident of birth.
It isn’t an easy film to watch. But it would be a disservice if you don’t give this thriller a chance.
Don’t miss it
Film: ‘Article 15’
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Sayani Gupta and Isha Talwar
Stars: 4 out of 5