Nishad is the hero, Ayan the protagonist in 'Article 15': Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
New Delhi: Films such as "Article 15" are made rarely, says Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub whose Nishad is the beating heart of the Anubhav Sinha's directorial despite only a few scenes.
Ayyub, who had the option of choosing from three or four different roles in the film that deals with caste conflict, said he picked the character of activist Nishad, the conscience keeper of the story and an amalgamation of several real life people who have fought or are fighting the system.
Told from the perspective of police office Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana), "Article 15" is a sharp take on caste divisions in India. The story is loosely based on a real-life incident and told through the gang-rape and murder of two village girls.
"I'm quite aware about sociopolitical issues and as an actor, I'm involved with these topics. I have also read a lot about the caste system and have very strong views about it. This is why it was so satisfying to play this character," Ayyub told PTI.
"It is big on Anubhav sir's part that he gave me the option to choose the character from three-four other roles. I chose Nishad as I felt I would do justice to this role. I felt if I miss this character, I will not get another chance to play someone like him in the next 10 years. Such films are made so rarely in India," he added.
The 35-year-old, who has been seen in films such as "Raees" and "Ranjhanaa", said Nishad's short presence in the film is intentional.
It makes the audience miss him and question why he is not there in the story. This, he said, can also be a metaphor for a caste dynamic in which people belonging to a certain group remain invisible.
"The idea was Nishad should come across as a protagonist though he does not have too many scenes. But that is how our society is. Real people who are working on the ground level never come to the limelight... The idea was that he should be in the film for only a short while so that people miss him," he said.
This disadvantage also plays into the careers and the romance arcs of the two characters, Ayan and Nishad, Ayyub pointed out.
"There are two couples in the film, one is Ayan and Aditi, and the other Nishad and Gaura. You can see the difference in how they behave as a couple. What advantages a person belonging to an upper caste has and what disadvantages people from lower castes have. Nishad could have been an IAS or IPS officer. Another character film points out how sharp Nishad was in his studies," he said.
For Ayyub, Nishad is the hero and upper caste Ayan the protagonist.
"Ayan's background, and I am not talking about him being a Brahmin, is that of someone who represents the urban crowd. As some viewers told me that the scene between Nishad and Gaura reminded them about Faiz's line 'Mujhse pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang'. Nishad is surrounded by so much filth that he cannot lead a normal life."
The many references from real people, be it the two lines from Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula's last letter about his aspiration to become a writer or a scientist, the overall shadow of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan on Nishad or the hat-tip to freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad, were also intentional.
"We did not want Nishad to be just one person whom we can easily find in the society. He was a representation of the intellect and the brightness of the people who are not getting their due, who are in a fight because of the place or the caste they are born in."
Ayyub said he also wanted people to understand how this fight has been imposed on Nishad.
"I have read reviews asking for a spin-off on Nishad... We wanted to show the vulnerable side of a revolutionary...
"Next time, when you read the newspaper, and find a mention of a person like him, you will not turn the page. You will, at least, read the story and understand that this person is involved in a fight that I should know about. This is why Nishad comes across so strong in just two scenes."