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Saturday, June 3, 2023

LIFF 2019: Article 15 Movie Review

Article 15, the hard-hitting thriller, had its world premiere showcased at the London Indian Film Festival. 

The star-studded premiere was followed by a Q&A session with director Anubhav Sinha.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays Ayan, a police officer from a privileged urban, international, background.

His very first posting is to rural north India where three teenage girls have gone missing.

His honesty does not sit well with the existing, deeply entrenched corrupt system where, in 2019, a 1000-year-old practice where human beings are divided on the basis of caste continues.

Beginning as a riveting police procedural that is a true detective like deep-dive into the Indian Bayou, the movie soon elevates to a gutsy exposé of a deeply flawed structure.

The film’s title references an article of the Indian constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race or sex. 

Zee Studios will release the film in the UK and worldwide June 28.

A Hard-Hitting, Eye-Opening Exposure to Caste System in India

The openness and picturesque landscape completely juxtapose with the regressive/murky and post-colonised condition of rural India.

It’s almost like the case of the missing girls is parallel to Ayan searching for equality/justice in rural India.

The movie itself acts as a harsh reminder of how the colonisation of India had a detrimental impact on the mindset and approach to life.

Whilst the British have left, the impact of their tyranny remains fresh.

In addition to the caste disparity, the film touches on other subjects/issues including honour killings, corruption, rape and homosexuality in a sensible way.

Seeing sequences where the policemen abuse their powers make us realise how the gate-keepers of the legal system are majorly responsible for the flawed socio-political conditions.

Initially, the crux of a high-caste ‘Bhramin’ fighting against the system seemed quite problematic.

However, it is an essential plot because after all, the ‘casteism’ issue itself has stemmed from the elite in the first place.

There is a balanced portrayal of empowerment. The film does not bash the elite caste nor does it victimise the lower-caste. There is a balanced depiction of both social divisions.

From visuals like the two girls hanging from a tree to dialogues like: “I don’t want a hero. I want someone who doesn’t need to wait for the hero” are soul-stirring.

At times, it becomes more hard-hitting when we see two Dalit men being mercilessly psychically abused by a bat in public.

As a director, Anubhav Sinha ensures that the film does not repeat casteism to drill the message in. He incorporates the issues in a harrowing narrative.

In fact, the main protagonist gets shocked seeing this and it’s as if we are shown the state of the society through Ayan’s perspective.

At times, it’s almost like the camera is an additional character, in providing a shocking insight.

Article 15 is subtle when it comes to technical aspects, but the background score is ace. It is haunting, foreboding and keeps the viewers on edge at every point.

Cast Performances

Similar to Mulk, the film causes rage within every heart as to why in 2019, such heinous acts still take place.

The dark/murky tone of the film is quite reminiscent of Delhi Crime and Mississippi Burning. But this film takes unexpected/unpredicted turns which will definitely shock viewers.

Ayushmann Khurrana, no doubt is a good performer. But with Article 15, he graduates as an actor.

His body language, dialogue delivery, everything is on point as a police officer. But the good thing is that his role does not ooze of machismo.

It’s so refreshing to see that a male cop does not have to be a stereotypical Dabangg or Singham. We need to see more practical and realistic depictions in Bollywood.

Sayani Gupta is impactful as Gaura. Her simple body language and expressions are effective.

Her fearless demeanour of standing up to the corrupt system in an otherwise undermined society is progressive to see. In a way, her character becomes the voice of the voiceless.

When it comes to the emotional quotients she is remarkable.

The breakout actor in this film, however, is Manoj Pahwa as the corrupt, antagonistic officer, Bhramadatt… Who is an elite and behind several horrific crimes.

His body language, expressions and dialogue delivery enrage you with hatred and frustration.

Anshu Naria is a name which haunts the audience until the end. Pulling off this role, Ankur Vial does a great job.

Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Nishad, Isha Talvar and Kumud Mishra were all first rate in their respective characters.

Any Improvements?

There are no hugely negative aspects of the film. However, the film requires patience.

Despite being an intriguing police procedural, the pace of the movie is slow.

It is not as racy as one would have expected it to be. Having said that, the movie never fails to intrigue us.

Overall, Article 15 is a brave, relevant and hard-hitting watch.

The subject matter of caste disparity is important to be addressed, regardless of whether one views it as a political film or as a procedural drama.

Anubhav Sinha presents a very balanced narrative. He does not glorify one religion or political party over another, which is why the film works in its essence.

If you thought Mulk was Sinha’s best work, then you really need to see this.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars).

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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