Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Sushil Pandey, Sayani Gupta, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub
The posting was a punishment. Ayan Ranjan, newly minted Indian Police Service officer, the tuck of his shirt crisp as a new banknote, readily admits the reason he’s sentenced to the bleak badlands of Uttar Pradesh. Ranjan had agreed with a senior officer without sounding officious enough — he had said “Cool, sir”, a yes-man who forgot his only line — and that perceived insubordination was enough to land him in a world where half the people didn’t touch the other half.
Article 15, Anubhav Sinha’s searing new film about the indignities endorsed by the caste-system in modern day India, do not play it cool. Inspired by the real-life Badaun killings — and paying stirring tribute to Alan Parker’s 1988 procedural thriller Mississippi Burning — this film about discrimination features policemen hushing up the murder and gang-rape of three 15-year-old girls because they belong to a ‘lower’ caste. Us, and them. It is a grim, unrelenting and essential film, one throwing up things we choose not to think about.
“Welcome to Page 7 India,” says Ranjan’s wife, when he calls and texts her, his eyes wide with newly discovered outrage at the plight of the Dalits and the downtrodden in middle India. Reports about real atrocity are relegated to the little-read middle of the paper, far from the front and sports pages. Ayan, a young Brahmin who likes his single malt and walks around with a holster suavely sticking out from underneath a well-cut blazer, feels as strange to that locale as an Englishman. The policemen below him are keen to make sure he isn’t some fool out to change the system based on renegade cop movies starring Ajay Devgn. ‘They get transferred,’ grunt old cops in the know, ‘while we get killed.’ Us, and them.
Written by Gaurav Solanki and Sinha, the film has the stench of honesty. It is hauntingly shot by Ewan Mulligan, who is evocative while shooting a frying paratha, a murky bus and — most unforgettably — a man diving in and out of a drain, cleaning our world because we wouldn’t do it ourselves. There is a brief sequence showing a religious rally, and I don’t remember seeing a more authentic crowd: they’re virtually foaming at the mouth.