What is my caste, asks the lead actor of the movie Article 15, to a bunch of bewildered policeman who are in awe of this newly posted IPS officer in the fictional village of Lalgaon in Uttar Pradesh. One of them musters up the courage to say: you are a Brahmin, sir. Okay, he says, so does that mean that I and the Mahant, a religious leader of the area, are the same, in stature? No, no, laughs the by now emboldened officer, who enlightens him by saying, he is a notch higher than you. Even in Brahmins there are categories!
And that sets the tone of Article 15, a hard-hitting, serious, at times dreary, and very realistic portrayal of the caste system in India. A system that we, the privileged sections of society are far removed from. But, for the lower strata, this is where life begins and ends. And who better to tell this story than a son of the hinterland as we can call the director Anubhav Sinha, best known for films like Ra One, Tum Bin, who grew up in Allahabad and studied in regions like Garhwal and Varanasi.
The film begins thus: IPS officer Ayan Ranjan ( Ayushman Khurana) lands thick in the middle of a gruesome crime, the moment he joins duties at a new rural posting. But what shocks him more are the prevalent caste practices in this little hamlet, which, due to his westernised education and privileges, he is unexposed to. A situation where a colleague cannot even touch his senior officer’s plate of food, as he belongs to a lower caste. And while this may look like taking it too far, truth is, such a system exists, even today and in many households in urban India too.
Like Ayan is told, that there cannot be one king if all castes are equal. The caste system that India has, as based on the theory propagated by the Vedas from ancient times. And yet another viewpoint where Ayan’s wife who lives in the city, says: why should there be a king at all? Equality should not have to be given; it is a right for all human beings –precisely what Article 15, as laid down in the Indian constitution says.
Loosely based on real life incidents like the Badaun rapes where two girls were hung on a tree after being gang raped and a story propagated that the girls were lesbian lovers and hence the families did an honour killing. Then the Una flogging, involving lower caste men.
In typical filmi style, the lead actor, despite being suspended, manages to discharge his duties and emerge a hero. Real life of course, is starkly different. Caste refuses to die in India, linked as it is to religious beliefs and incidents of discriminations continue, that are proper ammunition for politicians to win votes. A story as old as India is.
Without the extremely talented Ayushman Khurana, this film wouldn’t be as effective. Not a light watch. But a relevant one, indeed.