Synopsis – A fictional account on the life of former Indian international cricketer, Mohammad Azharuddin.
My Take – In recent years, it seems Indian audience has whole heartedly opened up to biopics mainly based on underdogs. With films like Mary Kom, The Dirty Picture, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Manjhi-The Mountain Man opening to good response from the audience as well as the critics are perfect examples. So why not bring out a film based on a sport followed as a religion in the country? Most importantly, everyone loves a sporting hero – the guy who comes from nowhere and wins hearts of the nation. It doesn’t happen too often. What happens even lesser is when the very fans who put him on the pedestal, pull him down because they find him unworthy of the love and adulation. This film is based on the life of the very successful former Indian Captain Mohammed Azharuddin, who had a glorious start to a successful career, with three centuries in his first three test matches, until his implication in a match-fixing scandal and a lifetime ban from the cricket pitch right before his 100th test match. Honestly, I had my apprehensions about this film mainly due to the talent involved behind the camera – producer Ekta Kapoor has been churning out rather trashy affair in the recent past, while Tony D’Souza has directed two Akshay Kumar bombs (Blue, Boss), and writer Rajat Arora despite some earlier portrayal of genius has been down to working on rather masala affair. And as I had expected my negative attitude towards this film was right, as it uses clever propaganda to portray our protagonist as a simpleton stuck in wrong situations. Common no one can be that innocent! Don’t get me wrong I got nothing against the cricketer, nor do I think the film is that bad, instead its quite an entertaining watch for its 130 minutes run time. Even though, the makers smartly use a disclaimer to justify the fictional accounts of the film, for a biopic the film lacks a solid punch.
The story follows Mohammed Azharuddin (Emraan Hashmi), an aspiring cricketer from a lower middle class background in Hyderabad, who in order to fulfil his maternal grandfather’s wish, rises on to become one of India’s most successful captains in the world of cricket. But with success comes controversy. Despite being happily married to Naureen (Prachi Desai), he ends up falling in love with an upcoming heroine Sangeeta (Nagris Fakhri), who he eventually marries too. Due to his sudden rise on the professional front, Azhar ends up making more enemies than friends in his own team. Eventually leading to his life time ban from cricket after being accused of match fixing due to a sting operation lead by his former team mate Manoj (Karanvir Sharma). The film tracks Azhar’s journey as he combats his inner battles with a clear mission – to have his name cleared and win back peoples heart. The problem with the film lies in whether to believe it or not. As the disclaimer neither clearly states that it’s completely fictional nor it states that it’s complete reality. Rather if confuses us with stating that it’s a mix of both. As a result, the film seems to be anything but a biopic. The refusal to face up to its true identity is actually the least of this movie’s problems. The film is unfortunately a botched opportunity to present a nuanced portrait of one of Indian cricket’s most enigmatic figures. The movie is too busy getting in product placements and dodging potential lawsuits, but they may pile up regardless, despite referring to several characters only by their first names (“Manoj”, “Kapil”, “Javed”). This flimsy attempt to prevent lawyers from lining their accounts is unlikely to impress anyone. For instance, Ravish (Gautam Gulati), who it is safe to assume is Ravi Shastri¸ isn’t likely to be pleased at the suggestion that he was cavorting with another woman in during an England tour while his wife paced the hotel corridors. The movie opens with Manoj, presumably Manoj Prabhakar, setting up the infamous sting operation in 2000 in which various of Azharuddin’s team-mates seemingly indict him for match-fixing. The cricketer is banned just one match short of 100 Tests. As the bombastic script later informs us, Azharuddin’s 100th test is in the courtroom, where his shambolic lawyer Reddy (Kunaal Roy Kapur) defends him from a prosecutor also a former fan (Lara Dutta). The heavily partisan account keeps cutting back to the past, including the early happy years with the red-cheeked Naureen (Prachi Desai), the fateful encounters with bookie MK Sharma (Rajesh Sharma) and the generous-lipped Sangita (Nargis Fakhri), and the humiliation heaped on a man who constantly asserts his innocence.
Crucial opportunities for character development are missed, such as the Sangita Bijlani episode. The transformation of the famously tongue-tied cricketer and family man into the future husband of Salman Khan’s ex is surely rich fodder, but the filmmakers are too busy pinning a halo and wings on Azharuddin to notice the lapse. Agreed, powerful dialogues keep the plot moving, connect viewers to the characters, and make the film memorable. But going by the dialogues that are given to Emraan, it seems the director doesn’t know the character inside and out, which is why developing his unique voice in the conversation isn’t easier. As if the title of the movie wasn’t enough, the director goes the extra mile to show exactly whose side he is on in the sordid match-fixing saga. The film’s makers throw their weight behind Azharuddin, portraying him as someone more wronged than wrong, a man of immense talent and mostly steady morals who was simply a victim of bad circumstances and people far more wicked than him. It looks a bit ridiculous because almost as a matter of rule, Azharuddin chooses the exact opposite of the morally sound choice right after delivering sermons to others – choices that range from starting an extra-marital affair, accepting a bribe, and throwing matches. There’s a distinct feeling of things being rushed, as if the movie had a lot to tell but not enough time. From Azharuddin’s early life and the way his maternal grandfather influenced his early years to his arrival in Mumbai and his selection in the national team – everything is represented with flashy montages, tacky dialogue and an ear-splitting background score. The first half belongs to Prachi Desai who plays Azhar’s devoted wife and apart from shedding silent tears while looking also stunning, sadly there isn’t much that she is allowed to do. There is something uniquely real about Naureen’s character from her appearance to her dialogues. Prachi brings to life the dignity and charm of Azhar’s former wife with her performance. Lara Dutta looks confident as the career-driven, no-nonsense prosecution lawyer. Aditya Roy Kapoor is likable as Azharuddin’s friend and counsel. Nargis Fakhri looks radiant, but continues her hamming performances from earlier films. Gautam Gulati makes an interesting big screen debut. Emraan Hashmi is finally paying some attention. Despite looking nothing like the cricketer he is playing, Emraan manages to keep us glued to the screen with his convincing performance. Its good to see him be so immensely watchable in years. On the whole, ‘Azhar’ is a disappointing biopic which relies too heavily on its performances to build a convincing case in support of the rehabilitation of a fallen hero. While I am sure his die hard fans would still appreciate instances of the film, from a general audience stand point, it would have been more interesting to watch his actual transformation as a person rather than seeing him being glorified as victim rather than an opportunist.
Directed – Tony D’Souza
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 130 minutes