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Hansal Mehta’s latest film Shahid, based on the life of slain defense lawyer Shahid Azmi, is a powerful story about a man who stood up for what he believed in and paid the price for it. Powered by the belief of the director and a convincing cast that manages to suck you in, the film is the kind that will stay with you long after the lights turn back on.
If I had to pick one Hindi film this year that shows the largest heart, that truly symbolizes the victory of sheer passion towards cinema and storytelling, then it would have to be Hansal Mehta’s comeback film after a hiatus, the touching and eye-opening Shahid. The film traces the real life story of criminal lawyer Shahid Azmi, who was murdered for his defense of a Muslim man accused of being an accomplice in 26/11.
Shahid’s story begins when, as a youth living in Govandi (an eastern suburb in Mumbai) and traumatized by the Bombay riots of 1993, he flees to a jihadi camp for ‘training’. The conflict between his own interpretation of Islam and that of the ‘trainers’ at the camp forces him to come back to Bombay, albeit into the arms of the police. Then begins his journey on the path of justice, something that he believes in till the very end.
Shahid Azmi’s story was clearly bursting to be told; a man who decided to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves; a man who paid the price of justice with his life. I’m glad that it was Hansal Mehta who was destined to bring his story back into public consciousness. After the interesting Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar and the truly underrated Chhal, a slew of highly forgettable films made a promising career head southwards. With Shahid, hopefully that career will head towards where it should.
While the film’s biggest strength undoubtedly is the story of the Shahid himself, what really makes the cinematic version of it memorable is the cast of the film. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Shahid’s older brother is excellent. He is the actor who played the role of Manu Sharma in the recent screen adaptation of Jessica Lal’s story. Anyone who loathed him then (because he was so good in the negative role) is bound to have a change of heart after this film. Prabhleen Sandhu as Shahid’s wife Mariam has a pleasing presence. Kay Kay Menon in a small, but significant cameo is an absolute delight to watch. One really misses this incredible actor. Tigmanshu Dhulia and Vipin Sharma in small roles are terrific, as are the rest of the supporting cast.
But the film ultimately belongs to Raj Kumar Yadav, the man who plays the title role. He invests himself into the character with such aplomb that one can easily feel his helplessness, his confusion, his ambition, his purpose and the rough edges that the character has. With every single performance of his, Raj Kumar underlines the fact that he is one of the most talented and dynamic young actors India has today. Hopefully, filmmakers will be able to channel his talent and challenge him with even more complex roles.
Strictly as a film, Shahid isn’t without its flaws. With budget and financial viability being perhaps the foremost reasons, the film suffers from technical and production-related problems. Right from issues like DSLR footage not blending in with the rest of the film, production value not being up to the standard that a film like this should ideally have had, to the fact that even though the film tracks nearly two decades of Shahid’s life, he doesn’t visually age at all – these problems stick out like thorns in the intense experience that the film otherwise is.
Also, the film could and should have been crisper. Often, a lot of time is spent highlighting Shahid’s character traits, especially right at the start of the film and then later in the film. I’m not sure if this has some connection to the fact that the editor of the film, Apurva Asrani, is also one of the screenplay writers. Either way, shortening the film could possibly have strengthened its impact.
Still, it isn’t often that the conviction and passion of the director and his team shines through in a film that clearly faced a number of obstacles in its making. Just for that, Shahid is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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