Lack of interest among AMU students failed Aligarh the movie

By Mohammad Rafay Qadri for

Aligarh the movie, which portrays the story of an Aligarh Muslim University professor, has sadly found few students interested in watching it, let alone taking up the cause of the movie. The movie, for very strange reasons, remains unscreened in Aligarh city as a section of city politicians as well as one Muslim outfit voiced anger against the title and subject of the movie.

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Only one show of the movie was run in a multiplex in Aligarh city on 26 February, the day it released across India.

Before we discuss inertia regarding the movie in the AMU campus, let’s have a look at the movie, its story, and its connection with the university and the city.

Aligarh documents a brief period in the life of Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras. He was a noted professor of Marathi Language in the Department of Modern Indian Languages. He lived a lonely life, mostly reserved in his apartment in Medical Colony and engrossed in listening, reading or writing poetry. His poetry collection even fetched him a literary award conferred by the Maharashtra government. One day in February 2009, he was filmed while having consensual sex with a rickshaw puller in his apartment by some local media persons.

The film traces Siras’ story from here. Since homosexuality was and is a crime in our country and AMU happens to be ultra sensitive about moral issues, Siras was suspended from his job. He was later even forced to vacate his official residence. He struggled to find accommodation in the city, and was even tortured in many ways by some university officials. Few people from the university fraternity sympathised with him. But, he shared his ordeals with a journalist who comes from Delhi. Goaded by journalist and activists, he fought against his suspension and his rights as a homosexual citizen of the society. Luckily, while his case is being fought, Section 377 of IPC which criminalises homosexuality was struck down by the Delhi High Court and he went on to win his case in Allahabad High Court. Ironically, just after a verdict is announced in his favour, he was found dead in his rented accommodation in Durga Wadi neighbourhood of Aligarh. The cause of his death, according to police, was possibly suicide because of consuming poison.

The story of Siras’ struggle to find acceptability with his sexual orientation in Aligarh is very sensitively handled by director Hansal Mehta. Siras’ character was marvellously essayed by Manoj Vajpayee, with fine assistance from Rajkumar Rao who played the role of Indian Express journalist Deepu Sebastian Edmond in the movie.

Aligarh won rave reviews from almost all leading film critics in India.

Aseen Chhabra in his review said, “Aligarh is a very important film, a milestone in the history of Indian cinema that should start the much needed conversation how India treats a visible and yet often ignored minority group.”

However, the film failed at box office despite having good ratings from
Of many reasons behind its commercial failure, one important factor could be the lack of interest shown by the AMU community in the movie. Aligarh was supposed to generate maximum interest among AMU students and teachers as the story of the movie is based in the university itself. Even in Aligarh city, it was expected that people would like to watch a movie named after their home town.

But, as the movie was about to be released, the city mayor Shakuntala Bharti declared it to be painting the city in bad light. “The movie will show city as associated with homosexuality and will disturb its image of being the citadel of Ganga-Jamuni (composite) culture,” she said and called for a ban on the movie in the city.

Hence, when it was released in some Aligarh cinema halls, few people booked its tickets. Later, all cinema halls refused to show the movie. Two AMU professors, including film critic Asim Siddique, saw the film on the very first day of its release. “There were only a handful of people watching the movie that (Friday) evening. In all probability, the owners of the theatres have stopped showing the movie on their own because of some perceived threat,” Siddique said. Similar lack of interest for the movie was witnessed among student community in AMU. Student organisations, like Aligarh Activist Society, didn’t show any inclination to challenge the “Ban” on the movie in Aligarh. These student bodies otherwise bat for many issues, some even remotely connected to Aligarh or the university campus. One reason though might be that many other issues like that of JNU etc have been on students’ mind these days, and thus they forgot to discuss about Aligarh. Nevertheless, a widespread silence on a movie about the campus and even titled Aligarh not being screened in the city and the student community sitting idle can’t be digested. Students have to come forward for the sake of Aligarh so that this great piece of art see the light of the day in the city it seeks to narrate it story about.

The author is a first year student of BA (Honours) Economics at the Aligarh Muslim University.