Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh won a standing ovation at the ongoing Busan International Film Festival -- where the work had a world premiere. The director tweeted that he was overjoyed by the response his movie got in the South Korean city. “People were moved by the story”.
Aligarh -- which will open the 17th Mumbai Film Festival on October 29, the first time since 1997 that a Hindi film gets this honour -- is set in a small town in Uttar Pradesh from which the movie gets its name, Aligarh. It is about a professor (Manoj Bajpayee), fired for his sexuality and a young journalist (Rajkumar Rao) who tells this story to the world. Based on true events, the film follows Dr SR Siras, a professor at the Aligarh Muslim University who, when discovered to be a homosexual, is dismissed. The movie depicts the unlikely friendship between Dr Siras and a reporter on to his first big scoop, a relationship that will change them forever.
The film unfolds between 2009 and 2013 -- the period when homosexuality was not a criminal offence in India--and the idea came to Mehta when he chanced upon an email which provided the seed for Aligarh.
Mehta told the media in Busan that his work was not just about homosexuality being illegal in India, which was by itself a serious issue. The right to privacy was closely related to homosexuality. Today, we were being given to understand that the right to privacy is not a fundamental right, he added.
Aligarh is the third part of what one may loosely term a trilogy about human rights. The first movie, Shahid, told us the story of the human rights lawyer, Shahid Azmi, while the second, City Lights, focused on the problems faced by migrant labourers in a big city.
Mehta will make a departure from human rights with his next film, Simran, whose shoot will begin in February 2016. Kangana Ranaut (of Queen fame) will play a small-town girl robbing banks in California, USA. Mehta is also on to a biopic of Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s son who died when the small plane he was piloting crashed in Delhi.
Mehta’s career began in television, where he directed the cookery show, Khaana Khazana (1993-2000), starring Sanjeev Kapoor. Mehta made his first feature, Jayate in 1999, which screened at the International Film Festival of India in Hyderabad. He followed up his debut with the cult hit, Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, in 2000.
The festival, organised by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI), will close on November 5.