When Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurana), a city bred IPS officer is given charge of the Lalgaon Police Station in the heartland of India, he realizes soon enough that he will have to tackle far more than meets the eye. At one point early in the film, he exasperatedly tells his wife Aditi (Isha Talwar) on the phone, “It’s like the wild wild West.” Having studied in Delhi’s St. Stephens and lived in Europe prior to this, Ayan is clearly at odds with the mindsets that accost him right from the word go at Lalgaon. Even as he is grappling with the strong presence of caste discrimination and societal inequalities looming over, he stumbles upon the news of three girls employed in a local factory who have gone missing for the last two days. His colleagues, Bhramdutt and Jatav (Manoj Pahwa and Kumud Mishra) tell him in all probability the girls will turn up. But the next morning, when two of them are found hanging from a tree, it confirms that something has gone horribly wrong. However, there is relentless pressure to close the case as quickly as possible. “Aap logon ka transfer ho jata hai, humein maar diya jata hain,” says Pahwa’s character as he tries to convince Ayan to sign off on the case file. As the police officer in command, Ayan is committed to getting to the bottom of this, refusing to buckle down despite obstacles and threats lurking in almost every corner. Anubhav Sinha’s ‘Article 15’ is designed like a crime thriller. And what works for the film is that it’s thought provoking, hard hitting while unflinchingly bringing to light burning social issues. The film is heavy on atmospherics, with the top notch cinematography (Ewan Mulligan) and background score adding to the mood. The feel is grim, gritty and grey often bringing a chill to the bone with palpable tension in the air. The images – some provocative and uncomfortable stand out, like the one where a man goes deep into a drain to unclog it and emerges soaked in the filth or the top shot of a group of policemen conducting a search in a swamp with their torchlights. The dialogues leave an impact. And the director brings out subtle nuances through his characters and setting which add to the essence of the narrative. The film’s storyline, interspersed with powerful and poignant moments leaves you with goose-bumps. The narrative definitely keeps you on the edge, but there are times when it feels a tad overstuffed as the layers, political intricacies and a multitude of characters seep in. And at times the pace dips.
But certainly, the performances by an ace set of actors is one of the high points of the film. Ayushmann Khurana has you hooked instantly, belting out a riveting performance as the sincere, determined police officer. It’s an intense, gripping act as he gets under the skin of his character. Other noteworthy scene stealers include actors Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, in a short but impactful role as Nishad.