London Indian 2019 Review: Ayushmann Khurrana Shines In Thriller ARTICLE 15
Hindi language film director Anubhav Sinha has been on a tear lately. After cutting his teeth making Bollywood potboilers and making a big splash with 2011's big budget superhero film Ra.One, Sinha took a long break from directing before coming back with the critically successful Mulk. This film was a more serious issue-oriented feature that dealt with communal issues within India and the way different communities are quickly stigmatized by the actions of individuals.
Mulk showed Sinha in a whole new light for a lot of Bollywood observers and has clearly awoken a desire in him to tell more meaningful stories that address real world issues. It's a path onto which Sinha has stepped boldly and with some success, and one which he continues down with his latest film, the rural thriller, Article 15.
Young IPS Officer Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana) takes a post in rural Uttar Pradesh near the city of Lucknow as a kind of punishment for being flippant with his superiors. Ayan didn't spent his formative years in India, having been sent off to Europe for his education, but upon his return, he suffers a major culture shock upon being dropped into the middle of the Hindu heartland where old customs die hard. Just as he has arrived, the town is gripped by a case in which three girls went missing with two of them turning up lynched in what is presumed to be an honor killing. Ayan's instincts tell him otherwise, and quickly the entire town is a suspect as he is determined to find out what actually happened.
There are dozens of films centered around well-to-do Indian youth returning to their homeland after years abroad who have to acclimate to a culture they'd long since left behind. In most of these cases, however, the culture that eventually wins them over is a wholesome, welcoming one full of love and tasty cuisine, not one in which an accident of birth determines one's entire life trajectory.
Article 15 takes on the very real stigma of caste discrimination that still exists in many parts of India, and the title, in fact, refers to the 1950 legislation banning discrimination against anyone according to caste. However, while it may be mostly a thing of the past in the more urban areas of the country, out in the countryside it is a very real concern. The film is based around real events like lynchings and other murders that have been committed upon people born into lower castes across the country, and Sinha and his co-writer Gaurav Solanki have dug deep into the madness that keeps these kinds of crimes happening and how easy it can be to ignore them if no one fights back.
Ayushmann Khurrana, who plays the intrepid officer Ranjan, is one of Bollywood's most talented up and coming actors. Fresh off of a critically lauded performance in Sriram Raghavan's 2018 thriller, Andhadhun, Khurrana handles this material with ease, bridging the distance between viewers familiar with local politics and those who might look in from the outside. His character is as unfamiliar with the intricacies of caste politics as any foreigner might be, and he is just as baffled by the hierarchy as any outsider would be. Khurrana's performance is perfectly pitched to feel like that of an authentic NRI (non-resident Indian) returning to a country that never really felt like his home, but in which he sees the possibility and hope for change, even if he has to dig through the muck to find it.
The film is more than just a preachy diatribe against caste discrimination, though, it's also a finely tuned thriller that addresses its issues with the problem in a gripping and entertaining fashion. The story of Article 15 reveals itself over the course of its well-paced two hour run time with very little flab or unnecessary padding, encouraging the viewer to take the journey along with its characters. Not everyone is exactly who we think they are, and even those who we believe to be trust worthy are not always so.
In the end, Article 15 is a compelling thriller that keeps you guessing until right near the end, putting another feather in Sinha's cap with a remarkably solid thriller that addresses a significant social issue without sacrificing storytelling. I haven't seen as many Bollywood films this year as I typically do, but this one sits proudly near the top of that list and definitely has the potential to make some fans outside of the usual Indian film fandom. Definitely worth checking out.
- Anubhav Sinha
- Anubhav Sinha
- Gaurav Solanki
- Ayushmann Khurrana
- Manoj Pahwa
- Kumud Mishra