After making a bunch of popular music videos and directing several notable television shows, Anubhav Sinha made his debut as a feature film director with ‘Tum Bin’ (2001). After making another romantic drama, he switched to action thrillers, made a superhero film and finally made ‘Mulk’ (2018), a film which, in a lot of ways, changed the course of his career. ‘Mulk’ was to Anubhav Sinha what perhaps, ‘Shahid’(2014) was to Hansal Mehta. After bringing to the fore religion based bigotry in the society, he now seeks to bring the audience’s attention towards caste based discrimination in the country with his new film ‘Article 15’.
Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana), an IPS officer, has been recently transferred to a small town named Lalgaon in Uttar Pradesh. This posting is a part of a punishment he is getting because of a war of words he has had with a senior. Ayan, who has mostly grown up abroad, is widely ignorant but vastly interested in understanding the cultural nuances and other intricacies of India, the country he belongs to but does not know enough about. As he reaches Lalgaon, he gets to know about three girls missing from the Dalit community gone missing. He is amused to come across the fact that most people in the police department are treating the case very lightly and have not even filed an official FIR. While two of the three girls, Shalu and Mamta are found hanging from a tree, the third girl Pooja is missing. Ayan is deeply disturbed by the turn of events and resolves to find Pooja and bring the culprits behind Shalu and Mamta’s death to justice.
Article 15 of the Indian constitution states that no human being would face any discrimination based on the caste he/she belongs to. Unfortunately, in the real world, this is something that is far from being implemented. You see people being discriminated because of their caste in cosmopolitan cities and as you go to smaller towns and villages, you realise how deeply rooted this problem is. The film is inspired from a couple of real-life events and has the beats of a thriller. One of the things that stand out in the film is the amount of research (or perhaps, the awareness) that has gone into writing the script. The film shows a mirror to even the ones who have remained far removed from a world where such atrocities happen. Just like the hero of the film. Ayan comes from a privileged background, has remained fairly ignorant of all that happens in hinterland India and yet, is deeply affected and empathetic towards the plight of those who have borne the brunt of the bigotry that exists in our society. Just like ‘Mulk’, in this film, too, you have people representing different sides, justifying their stance and in turn, giving you a glimpse of the world they come from.
As stated earlier, the film is dressed as an investigative thriller but a sense of urgency is missing at times. The suspense element could have been woven into the narrative a little more dexterously and the investigation could have structured more coherently. There are many characters in the film and a couple of them, such as the ones played by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Isha Talwar, could have been etched out better. Ewan Mulligan’s camerawork amps up the drama in the film significantly. The background score by Mangesh Dhakde is adequately intense.
Ayushmann Khurrana looks every bit of the ‘outsider’ with a conscience. He raises and lowers the pitch of his performance according to the requirement of the scene. This is yet another winning performance by him. Manoj Pahwa plays a character that has several layers to it and he proves, yet again, that he can play serious roles with as much ease as he plays comic roles. Kumud Mishra, too, gets a well-written character to play and he delivers a memorable performance. Sayani Gupta acts well but her diction is inconsistent throughout the film. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub leaves a lasting impact in every scene he is in. His character deserves a film of its own. Isha Talwar looks pretty and does well in the limited scope she gets. The actor essaying the role of Anshu leaves an impact. Anubhav Sinha makes a cameo (voice only) as Shastri.
Just like Anubhav Sinha’s last film ‘Mulk’, ‘Article 15’ too delivers a punch to the gut. It is heartening to see him tell such important stories fearlessly. This is the most important Hindi film to have come out this year.