Barely out of his popularity post his powerful film Mulk last year, on the subject of Hindu-Muslim unity, its flaws and disturbing truths, writer and director Anubhav Sinha has yet again been able to bring another masterpiece this year. This time he has come up with the hard hitting film on the ground realities of the Dalit community and the deep seated caste system still strongly prevalent in Indian villages -- Article 15, with a tag line Ab farq laayenge (we will now bring change).
The film wasn’t promoted rigorously the way Mulk was. From last Monday onwards, he has started showing the film to the press. This film, interestingly, is making more waves after its release. Not only is it hitting the conscience of people and making them aware of the realities that exist but are ignored, it has also sent Sinha’s cash registers ringing. This, despite the fact that Anubhav Sinha did not join Ayushmann Khurrana in promoting the film earlier.
Anubhav was clear, “When I go to promote a film of such nature, people start asking me political questions. I didn’t make a political film. And then it takes a different direction which is not good for the film.”
Notably, the audience who had to make a choice between Kabir Singh and Article 15 to spend their money on, seem to be guilty for not watching it. Consequently, after almost a fortnight of its release, the halls can now be seen full of young people trying to understand why the film is drawing critical appreciation.
Article 15 is inspired by a shocking but true incident in Uttar Pradesh in which two Dalit girls were gang raped and their bodies hung on a tree. It was a story penned by a young Gaurav Solanki, known for writing lyrics in a few Bollywood films by Anurag Kashyap and his best-seller book Gyarahvin ke Ladke, published by Rajkamal Prakashan.
But if you ask Anubhav, he says the film is not only about the repressive caste system or Dalits but “It is also about us”, Ke hum kis qadar beparwah ho gaye hain. How irresponsible and careless we have become! Everyday we pass by extremely painful and disturbing headlines and tend to ignore them.” This film, he says has been especially made for the youth, “These youngsters are blissfully ignorant thinking either such cases might have happened in earlier times, or happening far away from them. They are not realising that it is happening all around them - with their guards, maids etc. In some societies in urban areas, the society guard, for example, is not allowed to use the lift they use, utensils of maids are kept separate, and such similar incidents,” he says.
This is what triggered the need to make the film. It set him thinking.
“What’s the lesson we are giving to the new generation? What will we leave for them? Will we make them see issues that exist and they should do something about it or we would just leave them blissfully ignorant, like a dormant, unconcerned crowd of people watching all type of atrocities around them?” The apparently restless director adds.
For Sinha, there was not one such trigger but many that resulted in the film. “Unconsciously, I would revisit the images of that crying Syrian child on Turkish Roads in red T-shirt, girls hanging from the tree, Dalits being tied to car and beaten up, people making videos of them and no one is coming forward to save them. The poor (read untouchables) thrashed up for eating in the temples, a Dalit thrashed and killed for riding a horse on his wedding. These images kept on disturbing me deeply.”
“The film has been made for youngsters to make them understand that unlike in commercial films where a hero hits villains in slow motion, which gives them a catharsis thinking this hero will put everything in place, I wanted to make them realise that there is no hero that will come to correct things. Khud hi karna padega. (We ourselves will have to do it,” adds Anubhav.
So it is. It took him one year to finish the film, while writing it with Gaurav, they had finalised characters who would play what. They tried to shoot at actual locations as much as possible-- in Sikar Rajasthan, Rajakhera gaon in Agra and Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.
The film also shows how blatantly the police, the powerful village heads and local political goons and leaders are hands in glove. They not only perpetuate the caste system but also punish those who raise protests through local movements.
Now, it is not easy to digest a film of this nature without being disturbed for days. But this is what makes Anubhav hopeful for positive changes in our society.
“The film is dark, dry and depressing. There is no superhero in the film who hits the enemies in slow motion. There is not a moment of relief in it. Still the youngsters are spending money to watch it. They know what is right and what isn’t. The fact that youngsters are watching this film and writing, talking and discussing about it, gives me hope. Normally they pose in front of Salman Khan’s poster but this time many youngsters posed with Article 15. They sent me those pictures saying “Hum Badlaav layenge” (“We will bring change”). This is what my actual take-away from the film is; that people are lazy and scared but they finally stand up for the right”.
For now. Anubhav is basking in the success of the film and the audience’s response has brought some relief that we still have hope to redeem ourselves from such a repressive caste system that stifles the humane in us.