Article 15

Article 15 is an attempt to glorify the ‘harmonious’ varna vyavastha. There is a deafening silence when it comes to questioning the caste structure.

Article 15, a movie directed by Anubhav Sinha, faced angry protesters after the release of its trailer. Hindutva supporters felt that their old age traditions and culture were being questioned and ridiculed. Article 15 earned appreciable amount of publicity as many people were tricked with prowess of trailer, and the enthusiasm of viewers ensured strong revenue.

However, the movie which was expected to radically dissect the norms of casteism is actually a patchwork fiasco.

The intricacies of the casteism are not hidden to any Indian; this is a pan-India phenomenon. After watching the Article 15, I read extremely unsettling reviews which rarely observed the consistent percolation of casteism throughout the film. But will be unfair to weigh the movie as a documentation of Budaun mishap which certainly moviemakers never boasted about, so the critique must be limited to the plot it offers.

Caste is not limited to the idea of untouchability. The idea of segregation of society is its bodily fluid: endogamous stagnancy and purity. In fact, casteism exists and spreads implicitly — this the movie fails to highlight.

The movie fields the protagonist (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) as an upper caste young police officer who has no caste consciousness. He has no knowledge about caste hierarchy, which is evident from a scene. He asks questions on the same to his juniors and plays a stupid who never studied, for instance, the sociological theories which are taught to civil servants. This proves that the writer has not done a good amount of research; the movie further falls into gorge when the dialogues extract puns out of parachute acting.

Anubhav Sinha has tried to draw some parallels to appear real: carving Nishad’s character out of struggles of Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, talking politics with symbols and sketching the violence of manual scavenging. But the film does not seek to question any complex verticals.

In one scene, the protagonist, presented as a harbinger of change, tries selfishly to end the strike of sewage workers at police headquarters. But the strike in the rest of city continues. It further leads to a blunder where a person enters the drain without any protective equipment. Questions arise. Why did the top cop fail to ensure the safety of safai karamcharis? How could the cop, who boasts to have an excellent understanding of one article of the constitution, remain unaware of other critically important acts like ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’ which prohibit the employment of manual scavengers and the hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks?

Anubhav Sinha has recently explained the idea of putting the protagonist in the shoes of a Brahmin. He said — this was an attempt at justification — that the film questions the caste privilege by presenting protagonist as the privileged. Swinging between introspection and delusion of the lead character, film loses its shine midway, however.

The questions against caste structure and pure line, the roots of present-day casteism, never face the audience. Film has a Brahminical status quoist agenda of saviourism: to foster an internal friendly bondage among castes.

The top cop proudly refers himself as a Brahmin while he steps into the dirty pond. The character nowhere rejects the caste he was born in. “Let’s make a difference. Shall we begin?”— the movie rap, therefore, is hogwash.

O.K., how many Bhumihar Brahmins have expressed grief for 1997 Laxmanpur Bathe massacre? And for the act of upper caste Kallars in the Ramnad district (now Ramanathapuram) in chilling winter of 1930 of slapping prohibitory codes, which also included prohibition that women should not be allowed to cover the upper portion of the bodies by clothes, on Dalits? Those who disregarded the codes were violently suppressed, their huts and property were vandalised and torched.

Are the moviemakers aware of Census of India Report for 1921 which documents how Ahirs faced the wrath of the dominant higher castes after they decided to call themselves Kshatriya and donned the sacred thread? Do they know about the Brahminical ideology behind the sacred thread, that is, to stop non-Brahmins and non-Kshatriyas from accessing the formal knowledge systems?

The movie has no substance. Storytelling needed patience to understand and develop the storyline and characters. Film nicely quoted Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s speech which he gave in the Rajya Sabha on March 19, 1955 — to “burn the constitution if it is found to be misused” — but doesn’t reflect on Ambedkar’s idea of annihilation of the caste system.

Film further implodes: Ayushmann compares the obsession of a CBI officer with Hindi to patriotism. While it is good to learn a foreign language, how can the choice of a language determine the nationalist inclination of someone? Is that a badge? In the present scenario where the debate on Three Language Formula of National Education Policy is rocking the nation, the movie silently promotes linguistic chauvinism and works to undermine national diversity.

Ayushmann keeps asking everyone’s caste almost everywhere and at all the time. The troop can be seen sitting on the roadside, eating chapattis cooked by an old woman who runs a small dhaba. Again, Ayushmann repeats the same question, “Kaun jaat ho? (What is your caste?)” As the poor woman reveals her caste, which is lost in the cacophony, the laughter follows.

‘Leila’ had interrogated the idea of purity in Indian subcontinent with a dystopian cinematography, and it presented a better picture in the backdrop of Indian sociological framework than the ‘realistic’ plotline of ‘Article 15’.

Article 15 tries to avoid any sharp commentary. It fails to diagnose society truthfully. What the movie shows is the symptom of casteism, the disease is structural. Revolution such commercial films aspire to bring will always fail, for the ideological emptiness can never be a revolutionary ideology.

Author is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached at ujjawal.krishnam@protonmail.ch


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