Change title of Manoj Bajpai’s Aligarh: AMU students, groups demand
If there’s one place you can’t watch the Manoj Bajpai-starrer ‘Aligarh’, it’s Aligarh itself.
Though Hansal Mehta’s controversial project found widespread release in other districts of Uttar Pradesh on Friday, strong opposition from students of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and a few organisations has reportedly prevented it from making it to movie halls in the town. There are two reasons for their discomfiture – the name of the movie, and the alleged portrayal of AMU in a negative light.
The movie is based on the life of AMU professor Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was suspended by university authorities seven years ago for the “crime” of being homosexual.
In February 2009, a few local journalists forced their way into Siras’ AMU residence and filmed him having consensual sex with a rickshaw puller. A day after the sting, the professor was suspended for “gross misconduct” and forced to vacate the premises.
“We cannot allow the university campus to become a cradle of wanton behaviour such as homosexuality,” then vice-chancellor PK Abdul Aziz had told HT in an interview.
Though Siras took AMU to court and won back his job and accommodation in April 2010, he was found dead in his apartment only a week later. “A victim of conspiracy, harassment and blackmail, Siras finally embraced death out of shame caused by revelations of his gay behaviour,” said a university colleague.
Registering strong opposition against the movie’s release, town-based organisation Millat Bedari Muhim Committee (MBMC) submitted a memorandum to Union information & broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad – seeking that the movie’s name be changed.
Making a similar demand, AMU students action committee leaders Shikoh and Fahim Akhtar said they plan to lodge an FIR against Mehta once the convocation was over. “We will not allow anybody to defame Aligarh. He should give some other title to this film,” they said.
According to the two, the movie sends the wrong message about Aligarh – otherwise a centre of education and culture that’s “factually portrayed through the ghazals of Shaharyar in the film Umrao Jaan”.
Former AMU students’ union vice-president Syed Masud-ul-Hasan disapproved of the movie’s very theme. “Films must not be encouraged to portray such relationships. I feel it’s a criminal activity. Films should have a positive message for the youth.”
However, there are others who side with Siras, wondering why the professor’s right to privacy was not respected either by the journalists that sneaked into his bedroom or the university officials who punished him for an act that wasn’t even an offence at the time of its occurrence. “The Delhi high court had decriminalized homosexuality before Siras was caught having sex with another man,” Sandeep Saxena, a former AMU student and senior journalist with a local Hindi daily, said.
Mehta had also told the media earlier this month that his cinematic venture was not as much about homosexuality as it was about the “importance of one’s right to privacy”.
Others see more commercial reasons behind Aligarh shunning the movie. Claiming that many movie halls and distributors weren’t interested in spending on the movie when there were other big-ticket releases such as ‘Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive’, ‘Haunted Resort’, ‘Gods of Egypt’ and ‘Neerja’ in the fray, entertainment tax officer MP Singh said: “Though the film was due to be released in one multiplex and five single-screen cinema houses, it has been postponed for the time being.”
Aligarh superintendent of police Anushul Gupta, for his part, clarified that the town administration had not banned the movie’s release. “It’s up to the distributors to decide,” he said.
Agreeing that there was no official ban on the movie, Mehta told IANS that it was only being enforced due to “pressure” from the MBMC. The filmmaker said that though he was discussing the issue with his legal team, he couldn’t do “anything that may create a law-and-order situation”.
“It doesn’t seem like an official ban. The mayor (Shakuntala Bharti) has joined the issue with the fringe group (MBMC). Our stand is that the city of Aligarh has, once again, killed professor Siras,” Mehta said.
Terming those decrying the movie as homophobic, he said, “Their worry is that Aligarh, which is famous for knowledge and locks, will be linked only to homosexuality with this movie. There can’t be a statement more homophobic than this.”
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