Article 15 makes you uncomfortable. Whether it is the discovery of a present we didn’t know existed in the boundaries of our country, the discovery that we are a part of the system, or the discovery of ‘lower-caste’ men rising from gutter holes covered in filth in slow motion with music that portrays them as tragedies, Article 15, righteously, makes you uncomfortable.
Inspired from the 2014 Badaun gangrape case, the movie follows IPS officer Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurana) into his first posting in rural Uttar Pradesh. His welcome coincides with a case of two girls being murdered and a third lost. Unaware of the underground and unspoken obligations of the place, which still holds the caste system into high regard, Ayan, with an ensemble of police officers — all holding their specific opinions with the same, start working into the answers and intersecting politics of the case.
We have been told and taught that the night is darkest just before the dawn. But sometimes, like in the space Article 15 is set in, these nights outlast our memories of yesterday. So when a matter such as that of the caste system is picked up, Anubhav Sinha knew that just an experience of an outsider IPS officer investigating a case in and around people’s vision of personal and societal agendas won’t be ‘justice’ enough; he needed to dig deeper.
Just like in his previous venture Mulk, Sinha not only made us visit perspectives that we choose to forget, he made us live with them. The most artistically prominent being officers Jatav (Kumud Mishra) and Bhramadatt (Manoj Pahwa) who find themselves on conflicting sides of the same ideology. They, from the characters’ dynamics, look like more active and opinionated versions of Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah’s characters in Maqbool (2003) based on the two witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The opening 30 minutes of Article 15 throws in a number of names and facts, something bound to leave us a bit confused with its intricacies. But so was IPS officer Ranjan. Through Ayan, we too lived with uncertainty and scepticism. Despite being set in an environment more conservative than most, the movie was hard bent on reminding that it is more aware of its own time and place than we think it was.
“Facebook pe ek-do kavita likh daaliye, gussa nikal jaayega” (Write and post a couple of poems on Facebook, you will be cooled down), repetitive references to WhatsApp forwards being a sham, our protagonist wasting barely any time on cop movie cliches like trusting the wrong men and poetic references to stability in society meant that Article 15, releasing in 2019, never felt like Hindi cinema we have seen before.
One of the most admirable aspects about Article 15 remains its constant effort to not just being a truthful account of the depth and perspectives surrounding the issue it so carefully addressed, but also of being cinematically appealing. Some gripping camera work by Ewan Mulligan, irregular language switches for Ayan, some initially unexpected foreshadowing and the dynamics around the character of Nishad (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) makes the movie just get past the thin line between a movie with a message and a message from a movie. But out of all the little tricks writers Sinha and Solanki pull, the subtle genius is highlighted the most in the dark tone of the movie. Irrelevant to the time of the day, the video remains darker than normal – testament to the greed and disparity in the established cinematic world. Except for the scenes of Ayan’s girlfriend Aditi (Isha Talwar) — which are based in the city — and the last sequence, every other frame has a filter on.
Article 15, just like in the Constitution, is a single line despite making so many points. Of all it throws light (or shade) on, Ayan – the outsider – might remain the most politically unimportant. But somewhere as he rode through scenes of crime, a perfectly placed Bob Dylan song in the background summed everything up. How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?… The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.