Shahid – A gritty tribute to a life less ordinary



‘Shahid’ is gritty, wrenching and powerful. It needed to have been made, Shubhra Gupta writes in the Indian Expree while reviewing the film set to be released today. The film is a biographical movie based on the story of human rights activists and lawyer Shahid Azmi.

In the seven years that Shahid Azmi practised law, he managed to get 17 acquittals from India’s lethargic judicial and callous investigative systems. He paid the price for it in 2010, when his killers pumped him with bullets at his office in a Mumbai suburb, writes Prasanna D Zore.

‘Shahid’, a tribute to this great man, tells the story of a real-life person in a most life-like way. Those who know the story of Shahid Azmi, will be aware that the young lawyer was killed in 2010. He died in the line of duty, because he would not be dissuaded from doing the right thing. It is an important tale, and Hansal Mehta tells it straight, without any false flourishes, Shubhra Gupta writes.

That rare quality – humanism – is its calling card. Whatever its political ramifications or accuracy to reality may be, here’s a re-enactment which makes the viewer’s heart bleed over the abrupt end of a man’s life, Khalid Mohamed writes about the film in Deccan Herald.

Chances are that the human rights lawyer could have become just another page on the Google grid. Now, co-writer and director Hansal Mehta makes sure that he will missed and admired. They don’t make crusaders like Shahid any more, and the eponymously-titled film does complete justice to the man driven by a cause, he added.

No facile task this: the lawyer did have his faults and transgressions. That he spent time in jail, subsequent to his flight to and return from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, cannot be erased. That he was disillusioned by the violent code of the militants there, and then backtracked, cannot be overlooked either. In these aspects, Hansal Mehta opts to glide over the events. In fact, Shahid Azmi’s escape from the camp of terrorist trainers is far too stagey and conventional, reminding you at most of Mani Ratnam’s thrills-and-politics cocktails, Khalid writes.

In jail, the reluctant fundamentalist goes through a make-over, takes to studying law, thanks to benefactors (including K K Menon, in an impactful cameo). On being acquitted, Shahid approaches everyday life with a lawyer’s degree, and an unflinching commitment to his profession. Again this part is recounted, in simplistic short-hand. Hang on, though. From the moment, Shahid Azmi is motivated to take on the cases of those wrongfully apprehended under TADA, the real-life drama rocks big-time, Khalid writes.

Hansal Mehta, then, gives the bio-pic the kind of purity and power, which can be only sourced from actual facts. Result: the screenplay moves way beyond a political polemic. Its form is that of a story which is replete with doubts, complexities of familial relationships, tenacity and breakthroughs. The extended Azmi family – housed in a hovel – is dominated by a matriarch, the kind you can still encounter in any mohalla of Mumbai, aware that things cannot be the same again for the minority community, post the 1992-’93 riots and the 26/11 terror attacks.

Indeed in his career-redefining endeavour, Hansal Mehta’s film may have been intended as a political act, but it never loses emotional contact with the audience. On the one hand, you meet the corrupt and degenerate, the bullies and the unprincipled. And on the other, there’s Shahid, an honorable pacifist. No invincible hero he, the activist lawyer requests his elder brother (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) for some more financial support, a scene which is harrowingly touching.

It’s not about the loving the family, it is plainly about primeval solidarity. Moreover, the lawyer’s marriage to an upright woman (Prabhleen Sandhu), with a knee-high son, is absolutely life-like. Their initial courtship in a café is picturised with a touch of humour and dignity. As for the woman’s umbrage to the threat to their lives, it is entirely justified. A pragmatist to the core, she does not see any point in Shahid’s obsessive combat for the defenceless. The woman’s real.

As the portrait of Shahid Azmi progresses, the strokes get bolder, particularly in the courtroom sequences where lung-power and rhetoric prevail. At various stages, two public prosecutors use every trick in the book to twist the facts of the matter. Meanwhile, the TADA-detainee looks on mutely as the noose seems to get tighter. These passages, as well as the tarring of Shahid’s face right outside the courtroom, are reinforced with technical proficiency — by the sparseness of Anuj Dhawan’s camerawork, Apurva Asrani’s meditative editing and the conviction of the acting crew.

In the title role, Raj Kumar Yadav, with his bottled-up rage, unwavering body language and a seamed haunted face, is nothing short of outstanding, worthy of note by any film award jury. Shalini Vatsa as the belligerent public prosecutor and Vipin Sharma as the wisecracking sort are first-rate, immediately recognisable as the legal eagles who can undermine even the most fool-proof defence arguments, Khalid writes.

“Agar iska naam Donald ya Suresh hota, toh kya yeh yahaan khada hota (If this man’s name was Donald or Suresh, would he have been standing here)?” Shahid’s question, in a Mumbai court room, addressing a judge, pointing to a man who has been in prison without any proof or evidence, other than his name, rings the changes. There have been so many incidents of false arrests and torture and custody deaths of innocents who were picked up and wrongly confined by the police just because they had the wrong name: if you were Muslim, and poor, and you were in the wrong place, or in the wrong eye, you were guilty of terrorism, Shubhra Gupta writes.

‘Shahid’ was also one of them. We see the degradation that he has to undergo in a lock-up, naked, stripped of his dignity. More than the marks of the beating, it is the way a fellow human talks to you and demeans you that kills the spirit. But the inspiring thing about Shahid’s tale is that he overcame the torture and the beatings, and the shadow of his dark past, and became the man who wanted to protect and save others like him. Raj Kumar Yadav wears the character like skin, and becomes Shahid, Gupta writes.

“By subjecting me to injustice, the Lord taught me the importance of fairness. By throwing pain, humiliation, and torture my way, he taught me to be strong.” It is with these words, spoken in a voice-over by the film’s protagonist, that director Hansal Mehta’s ‘Shahid’ opens.

Easily one of the strongest films you’ll see this year, it’s based on the true story of controversial human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi, who was gunned down in cold blood in 2010, presumably for defending a 26/11 accused, who, as it turns out, was acquitted last year.

Importantly, the narrative doesn’t take recourse to sensationalism and stereotype as it winds its way beginning with the 1993 Mumbai riots, Shahid’s subsequent landing at a POK terror camp, his release from jail, his practice of law in Mumbai and his defense of those falsely implicated in the series of terrorist attacks that maimed and killed innocents since 2003, Prasanna D Zore writes.

Actor Rajkumar’s portrayal of Shahid is brilliant and vulnerable at the same time as Shahid tries to lead a normal life of a family man with his wife, mother and three siblings and defense lawyer who fights for justice of a community that is painted with the brush of Islamic terrorism without thought or proof.

Mehta’s Shahid is not an in your face film. It is a subtle, thought-provoking and gutsy story of a person who believed in the power of truth and justice yet knew that the path he had taken was strewn with risks, indifference and ignominy.

What tugs at your heart the most about this film is its linear narrative. Thankfully, Mehta has taken efforts to keep away from stereotyping the Indian judicial system, the Indian investigative agencies, the community of the film’s protagonist and all that is ugly about the system.

What is most remarkable about Shahid is that Mehta has told the story as it is. To gain his audience’s sympathy, Mehta doesn’t hide the fact from them that Shahid was accused of being a terrorist and served jail under the dreaded TADA and yet Shahid’s sincerity to help Muslims falsely accused in terror cases and dumped in jails without following proper legal procedures makes you feel for the lawyer.

The actor-director duo have got the nuances and various subtexts of the story of an ordinary Indian citizen right.

One scene worth mentioning here is when Shahid, who prepares for his law exam in his one-room tenement at night, quarrels with his siblings over the light that disturbs their sleep and the finality with which Shahid’s mother settles the quarrel.

This scene is reminiscent of what happens in the homes of many Indians, doesn’t matter what faith they follow. Mehta has done his home work well, Prasanna D Zore writes. –


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