Article 15 Review (No Spoilers): Trying to Make Your Way Through the Swamp

I saw it! To celebrate the 4th of July! And it was quite quite good, in multiple ways. I encourage you to see it if you are a) interested in film narrative techniques or b) interested in confronting social issues. Don’t see it if you are a) interested in love stories or b) spend your entire life dealing with social issues and go to the movies to escape.

I am really very impressed by Anubhav Sinha. This is the third movie I have seen by him, after Dus and Ra.One. The first two are just a good time, a fun ride in terms of topic and style. And this one is something entirely different. So far as I can tell, sometime around the 2014 elections, Anubhav made a personal decision that he was going to tell the stories he wanted to tell, the ones India needed to see, and not consider anything else. Since then he has made Gulab Gang (issues of female abuse in villages), Mulk (issues of prejudice against Muslims), and this movie (issues of abuse related to caste). And also Tum Bin 2, just to put some money in the bank. I knew about his moral decision thanks to the interviews around Mulk, but what I did not realize until I watched this movie was the stylistic progress he has made as an artist since the Dus years.

Image result for article 15 poster

This move is filmed in oppressive darkness and shadows, and the story is told in the same way. We never see a clear sunny sky, the darkness haunts the corners of the screen. Everything is in muted colors, faded and tired and old. And the story is the same, we jump from scene to scene, losing track of which day it is, who is talking, who knows what and who is doing what. That’s the point, real life is not made up of clear brightly lit moments of decision, it is made up of shadows and a million small moments in time when you can chose to go farther, think harder, do better, or just let it go. Not explore those shadows, except the straight path down the road. This constant draining feeling is made into an explicit metaphor late in the film when they discover the only way forward in the mystery is to leave the road, and go through a swamp into a jungle.

It took me a while to relax into this style, to accept that there was no point in trying to “solve” the mystery in advance, or try to understand everything that is happening. And it wasn’t exactly “relaxing”, more understanding that I would never be able to relax, there was no moment to wait for when the film would kick into gear and all would make sense. This is life, and the film is representing life. It is confused and unclear and all you can do is try to make your way through the swamp.

Image result for article 15

There are some clear American ancestors to this film, In the Heat of the Night, A Time to Kill, Mississippi Burning. I’m acknowledging them just so I can reject that relationship. All these films tell the story of a small town that hides its sins and the outsider who comes in and reveals them. But that story, that is universal. Small towns everywhere have the ability to breed small minds, and small worlds that can be pierced by one outside influence. The outsider coming in can be used merely as a narrative device, someone for the audience to use as a surrogate as they come to learn this world. Or it can mean something more, they can create change through their own identity within this world.

“The love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is of course infinite, if not pathetic. What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism?”

Dr. BR Ambedkar, Father of the Indian Constitution and the hope and faith of the Indian Dalit community

At the center of all of this is Ayushmann Khurrana. His role is an interesting and important one. He is not the “hero”, that is Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub. No, Ayushmann is the outsider who has the abilities to facilitate the hero. He comes in with enormous power and privilage, and floats above everything around him. His staff cleans up and simplifies and protects him from the messiness of reality. He is not a bad man, he is just a man who has had the luck to never be forced to consider these questions before. This is who the film is aimed at, the urban 1% who argue that India is wonderful, India is perfect, India is on the way up. Because they are never forced to consider the rest of India, the one that exists outside of their little bubble.

Early on Isha Talwar (Ayushmann’s love interest) teases him that he is coming in to this village like the British. And that’s how he plays the role, as though he is British. He is from a whole different country than the rest of the cast. He stands straighter, holds his head up higher, moves differently even. And like a colonizer, he has the option of trusting the “natives” and respecting their traditions, or forcing his own morality onto them. But this is a post-colonial India, and so Ayushmann struggles at first and then finds his own way, he is not respecting their traditions, or forcing his own morality, instead he is forcing the morality of the Indian constitution itself, the State, greater than one man or one village.


17 thoughts on “Article 15 Review (No Spoilers): Trying to Make Your Way Through the Swamp

    • Or, you could watch Ra.One! Same director, far more fun. Or Dus! I love Dus!!!!! A ragtag band of cops traveling around driving cars with a cool soundtrack. Maybe there is some deep social message in it that I am missing, but I don’t think so.

      On Thu, Jul 4, 2019 at 9:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



        • It’s just THE BEST SONG. I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw Vishal-Shekhar live and they used it as their intro number, and suddenly all my youth came flooding back to me.

          On Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 1:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  1. This looks like a really interesting movie but I wouldn’t want to watch something so serious in the theater. I need to be able to pause the movie and take breaks for these kind of movies.


    • Yep, I would have enjoyed it far more watching streaming. Being able to pause and take a mental health break (so glad for the interval!) or just kind of process things before moving forward would have made a big difference. It’s a long movie too, well over 2 hours, that’s a lot of bleakness to take in one sitting.

      On Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 1:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • Yeah, if it’s also a long movie then I’m probably going to wait for it to be on streaming.

        By the way, haven’t you seen Mulk? I was so sure that I’ve read something of yours talking about Milk.


        • I talked about Mulk when it was in production because I was so interested that Anubhav was taking on such a risky topic, and Taapsee getting a lead role in something. But then it ended up releasing on only 25 screens in America so I wasn’t able to see it.

          On Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 1:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • Looks like it’s not available through any of the regular services. Maybe einthusan?

            On Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 1:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Now that I have read all the comments, I too might do what Alisa is doing and buy a ticket to support sales but watch it when it becomes streaming. I generally watch movies to escape and I feel like unfortunately, I have been watching way too many depressing movies recently. Plus, given that my job also entails working on social issues on a daily basis, I might need to wait. Although, if it takes as long as Mulk is taking to become streaming, I might be very mad at myself for not watching it.


    • It’s doing way better than Mulk in pretty much every way, so I suspect it will hit streaming sooner rather than later. In fact, I think I may have seen Netflix as one of the partners in the opening credits?

      And I hate it when I am told “you must watch this movie” or “you must read this book” or whatever, so that I will understand some Very Important issue. What if I already understand that issue? What if I care about it so much and do so many things in the real world related to it that I need to watch movies to escape? I don’t think anyone has told me that about this film, or really any other in years, but I still am mad about the last few times it happened and I am glad my “don’t watch if you spend your life caring about social issues” is doing the job it is supposed to do of letting us off the hook.

      On Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 2:36 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. Most likely won’t be able to see this in theaters (the only theater showing it has a 9:50 pm showtime!) but I will definitely check it out when it hits streaming


    • Oh, I wouldn’t want to see it at 9:50! It was exhausting and depressing watching it at 11am and going out into bright sunshine, watching it at night would have killed me.

      On Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 3:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



    • Oh shoot! That explains it then. Zee5 isn’t available in all markets, but it is holding the rights to all markets, so poor America has no way of accessing Mulk into the American Zee5 launches.

      On Sat, Jul 6, 2019 at 12:45 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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