When Brahma created the universe, a character says in the film Article 15, He also decided the balance of things. “Please, santulan naa bigaadiye,” the character, a local police officer in small town Uttar Pradesh, pleads with his newly appointed boss, a city-bred rookie played by Ayushmann Khurrana. The new boss has lofty ideas; Confronted by caste-based discrimination for what seems like the first time in his sheltered life, his rather ambitious instinct is to eradicate it. But his colleagues have spent a lifetime toeing the line. “You’ll be transferred, but we’ll be killed,” the local cop tells him with folded hands, begging him to compromise on his morals. The idea of ​​balance runs deep in the crime-drama’s engrossing narrative, but five years after its release, also illustrates the movie’s place in the industry.

Arguably the crowning achievement of Anubhav Sinha’s filmmaking career along with his follow-up, Thappad — also a movie about maintaining the status-quo, in a way — Article 15 opened to considerable critical acclaim in 2019. But most surprisingly, it was also a box office hit. A grim thriller that tackles themes such as sexual violence and social injustice, Article 15 challenges the very foundations upon which Indian society was built. Just that description alone would send financiers into a terrible fright these days. Forget working at the box office in 2024, Article 15 wouldn’t even get made.

Also read – Bheed: Anubhav Sinha’s movie is a messy, confrontational, and deeply angry response to blasé Bollywood

article 15 Ayushmann Khurrana and the cast of Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15.

A lot has changed in these five years — audiences have decided that they will only make a trip to the cinema if they’re promised at least five scenes in which Shah Rukh Khan beats up bad guys, and Khurrana is no longer the bankable star that he used to be. Before you bring it up, Dream Girl 2 wasn’t a return to form; it was a cry for help. Khurrana wasn’t trying to regain lost stardom; he was simply trying to remind himself what being associated with a hit felt like. But regardless of the ever-changing idea of ​​conventional heroism, in Article 15 — his best film — Khurrana ostensibly played the most ‘heroic’ character of his career.

The plot begins even before Ayan Ranjan arrives in the village of Laalgaon in Uttar Pradesh; a punishment posting for insubordination. Two young women are kidnapped, assaulted, and hanged by unknown assailants; a third girl is still missing. They’ve been denied justice because of their Dalit identity. Ayan hears about the case at his welcome party on his first day on the job. His subordinates tell him not to worry; ‘These people’ go missing often, but they invariably turn up after a few days. They didn’t even bother writing a report. Ayan, who admits to having little real-world experience in his short career as a cop, is aghast. He devotes all his energy into solving the crime, while at the same time getting a reality check about the mockery that India’s people have made of its idealistic origins.

Festive offer

It’s like the Wild West out here, he tells his wife on the phone not long after, rightfully outraged. The girls were assaulted and murdered for a mere Rs 3. But what of a society that expects its people to work for as little as Rs 25 per day, and chains them to systems designed to suppress. What of a society in which killers and rapists can brag openly about the crimes they’ve committed, and walk away unpunished? A simmering rage can be felt in every second of this movie’s two-hour run-time, demonstrated by searing images like the one of a man cleaning a gutter in glistening slow-motion. But like Ayan, who could very easily have turned a nihilistic blind eye to the injustice around him, Article 15, with an almost Spielbergian earnestness, resolves to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

In a way, Ayan views himself as a Brahma-like ‘creator’. As he surveys his new domain and recognizes its many failings, he resolves to change it. But his ambitions aren’t restricted to simply doing his job and feeling nice about himself; Ayan wants to change the very fabric of society. Of course, his upper-caste privilege affords him certain luxuries, such as going about his day without wondering even once if Brahmadutt Singh’s warnings about maintaining ‘santulan‘ are valid, or if his investigation will inspire retaliation from the local goon-politician. He isn’t the first man to have taken a shot at playing God, nor will he be the last. But it never ends well for folks like him, regardless of whether they’re actually on the right side of history.

Article 15 Ayushmann Khurrana in a still from Article 15.

It is slightly ironic of the movie to put its protagonist on a pedestal, when its primary objective is to endorse equality. But Article 15 makes an effort not to appear arrogant. The movie goes out of its way to ground Ayan — he is made to literally get his hands and feet dirty in the mud — but it needn’t have. Ayan is curious, not conniving. When he discovers the criminal flaws in the system, his instinct is to help people, not exploit them. He isn’t a male savior, or even a Brahmin saviour. By framing the narrative around a police investigation, the movie gets away by saying that Ayan is simply doing his job. He isn’t merely virtue-signalling; He’s backing up his beliefs through action. Ayan is also keenly aware that he cannot do this alone; to be a good ally, he needs allies of his own.

Read more – Bhavesh Joshi Superhero: How Vikramaditya Motwane’s overlooked gem became an entire generation’s favorite cult film

Himmat hai?He asks a young female doctor, who is being pressured by her senior to fudge the young victims’ autopsy report. Despite very obviously being from the outsider’s perspective — hence the film’s absurdist central scene, in which Ayan demands to understand the basics of caste segregation — Article 15 makes an effort to stop further suppression of Dalit voice. Sayani Gupta’s character could easily be the protagonist of her own spin-off movie. The arrival of a man like Ayan in her life empowers her, certainly, but her core values ​​as a rabble-rouser activist existed long. before he entered the picture.

And what a bleak picture it is, drained of all color by cinematographer Ewan Mulligan, and populated by characters with a moral core as murky as the swamp that surrounds the town. But the people of Laalgaon are hardly concerned about their comrades. And the only fire that rages inside the souls of the ‘bhagva’-clad politicians elected to govern them is that of hate. Article 15 remains a powerful reminder that regardless of how the Constitution is interpreted, it was written in black and white.

Post Credits Scene is a column in which we dissect new releases every week, with particular focus on context, craft, and characters. Because there’s always something to fixate about once the dust has settled.

Click for more updates and latest Bollywood news along with Entertainment updates. Also get latest news and top headlines from India and around the world at The Indian Express.