Ayushmann Khurrana starrer ‘Article 15’ has intrigued the audiences ever since it’s first look and trailer. With filmmaker Anubhav Sinha seeing success with his film ‘Mulk’ last year which challenged how people viewed religion and how the image of a terrorist came into play, his most recent offering seeks to bring about thoughts about caste discrimination within an Indian society. ‘Article 15’ premiered on 20th June in London, at the opening night of the Bagri Foundation London Indian Festival, to a sold out screening. With Sinha being present at the festival to showcase the film, does the film really serve to provoke the thoughts it really seeks to?
Ayan Ranjan (Khurrana) has his first posting as police officer in a village sees him create quite a name for himself. Having graduated in Delhi, he has been educated and living in Europe before this and therefore sees the world very differently to the others in his team. When three young girls in the village go missing, and two of them are found hanging from a tree, Ranjan discovers some uncomfortable truths about the caste discrimination which is prevalent in the village’s society and he is forced to make choices which go against the village’s so-called rule book in order to try and find the third girl and get to to bottom of the deaths of the other girls.
The first and perhaps most interesting thing about ‘Article 15’ is the way the story unfolds. The intensity remains throughout the film, with scenes and situations which prove to be uncomfortable viewing. Sinha has written, directed and produced a film which manages to keep the audience engaged. What the film does well is challenge the audience to think about how they feel about the situation, as well as portray what’s right and wrong in interesting ways. There are a number of ways Sinha does this and it isn’t always through the characters themselves. There are questions the characters ask, there are attitudes which come into play and there are also ways in which Sinha almost forces the audiences to think for themselves and delve into their own consciences throughout – to think about the concept on control, hierarchy and superiority versus inferiority within a society. The audience’s unconscious bias comes into play and this is an extremely thought-provoking and interesting set of thoughts to walk away with.
As far as performances go, seeing Khurrana play a cop is different enough but the character of Ayan is not your average police officer. He’s well to do, he’s honest, he’s caring and he means business. It takes him a while to figure out how he himself feels about what he sees happening and the treatment of certain groups and individuals within the village. However, he eventually finds his feet and doesn’t let up getting to the bottom of the case, no matter the resistance or obstacles. Khurrana’s poker face throughout the film steps up the narrative immensely because this is what encourages the audiences to think about their own feelings towards the situation before Ayan has made up his own mind what to do. This straight-faced demeanour is very different to what the actor has been seen in before and it only goes to show exactly how versatile an artiste he really is. His monologue as part of the climax scene is something that stays with you after you’ve watched the film. Sayani Gupta, who plays a woman who is deprived of her rights because of her caste, delivers a stellar performance as Gaura. The pain in her eyes and body language makes her one of the most pivotal characters in the story but she makes this known very subtly. The ensemble caste prove to be the backbone of the film with actors like Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra and Nassar all showing different shades throughout. Particular mention goes to Pahwa who is the one character that stays with you because he shows no remorse or shame for the way he portrays his beliefs – showcasing a part of society which is perhap the most frustrating for those who don’t hold beliefs in the caste system. Isha Talwar’s short role is also a great anchor for Ayan as she is always making him think that little bit more about his own personal battles with the subject.
Overall, it can be said that the film puts the topic of caste discrimination at the forefront with no real clear path as to which “side” is correct and this is what makes it all the more interesting to watch. It encourages the audiences to think of people as humans rather than from a lower or higher caste. This message is loud and clear as the film’s story gets underway bit by bit. The rawness of the images Sinha has included in the film are extremely effective – like the person who delves into a sewer to clean it or the scene where Ayan is saying how proud he used to feel of India while he’s walking on garbage. These subtle additions make the story scream its message louder than just the story itself. The narrative, although centred on article 15 of the Indian constitution, also deals with the issue of rape, crime, corruption and bribery.
If you’re after an intense slice of life film (with not many light-hearted moments to break it up) which isn’t your average from the genre, ‘Article 15’ is a film that will make you question your own biases – conscious or otherwise – and it’ll also leave you wondering why in today’s generation a caste system is still in existence in mindsets.