Anubhav Sinha takes on caste oppression in his new film ‘Article 15’
The story is inspired by several true stories and the importance of this film is that it wants to be a part of the discussion
Article 15 of the Constitution is the fundamental right that protects citizens against discrimination on a variety of grounds, including caste. Anubhav Sinha’s latest film, named after this Article, addresses issues of caste discrimination, oppression and privilege. Ayushmann Khurrana stars as an upper-caste police officer assigned a rape-murder case, who has to deal with bigoted attitudes, both in the area and within the force.
Like his critically acclaimed Mulk last year, Article 15 also asks questions of the Indian society today. Sinha started his career directing music videos before branching into film direction, helming star-driven commercial projects like Cash (2007) and Ra.One (2011). When Lounge met Sinha at his office in Andheri, Mumbai, he said that with Mulk and Article 15, his true voice was being heard. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What has brought about this shift from big commercial movies to stories about the marginalized?
There is a shift in the movies, for sure, but there is no shift in the person. People who have known me for long have known this person. So when Anurag Kashyap, who has known me for 30 years, is watching the film, he messages me and says, “So you are back." This shift is also not deliberate, except that now I will only make films that I feel passionately about. The people I met for the first time in the period when I was making films like Tum Bin, Ra.One, Dus, Cash would often remark that I was very unlike the person who had made those films.This is not the best thing for a film-maker to hear because your film should reflect your personality, thinking, philosophy and character. I think subliminally that was bothering me enough to get to a point where I said I will make films that I stand for.
Where does Khurrana’s Ayan Ranjan fit in the Indian film police officer spectrum?
Ayan is not the typical Bollywood cop. He is not a swag hero. He is not Om Puri from Ardh Satya nor is he Ranveer Singh from Simmba or Mr Bachchan from Zanjeer. He is a strange mix of real and popular. There was no reference point for Ayan Ranjan but fortunately Ayushmann was so in sync with me that he got it and delivered. I don’t want to say too much and spoil the fun, but it’s not as straight as a conscientious guy who wants to change society. There is a track in the film that enhances what I am saying. The film is not making a comment on how cops should be.
In a film about oppression and caste discrimination, why have an upper- caste protagonist save the day?
He had to be upper caste for the same reason that Arti Mohammed had to fight the case in Mulk. She could have been a Muslim daughter-in-law. But the privileged must challenge the privileged. It is so obvious for the under-privileged to challenge the privileged, saying, “How can you have something over me?", as opposed to the privileged person saying, “How can we have something over the rest?" I find the latter more exciting. I am very cut and dry about what our reality is, and we are making a film of our times.
What was your motivation to make ‘Article 15’?
The film is trying to do a lot of things while telling a very interesting, investigative piece. It is a police procedural around the hanging of two girls and the disappearance of one. The story is inspired by several true stories and the importance of this film is that it wants to be a part of the discussion.
No movie can change society, but there are things that can be achieved by a film. For example, we are sitting in a room that has a lizard in it but we don’t mention it because it is not bothering us. But if I stand up and say there is a lizard in the room, then we will try to deal with it—in whatever way. And that is what this movie is about. As a film-maker, I can’t tell you how to deal with it, but there is a bloody lizard in the room. The most dangerous evils of society are the ones we don’t speak of. Both Mulk and Article 15 ask difficult questions.
Besides ‘Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai’, you are starting your next film with Taapsee Pannu in August.
Yes, hopefully Abhi Toh… will release this year. I am starting a film that is tentatively titled “Thappad" with Taapsee in August and then another film in April 2020. Taapsee and Ayushmann have become my favourite actors now. They are the same people. They are delightful, hard working and more interested in the film than just the characters they are playing.
Udita Jhunjhunwala is a Mumbai-based writer, film critic and festival programmer.