Director: Tony D’Souza
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Nargis Fakhri, Prachi Desai
Once retired, a player fades from the public memory, says bookie MK Sharma (Rajesh Sharma) in the film Azhar, ostensibly a biopic on the life and times of former India cricket skipper Mohammed Azharuddin.
His words are proved contradictory, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
The cricketer in question is Mohammad Azharuddin, a luminous presence in India’s blue jersey in the 90s till his career crashed and died against match-fixing allegations. Nobody allowed the cricketer to live that down for years to come.
Now before we begin the review, if you are wondering whether the movie is a biopic, you are highly mistaken. The film begins with a long disclaimer, the gist of which is: ‘Inspired from various stories… not a biopic’.
Have you ever seen a batsman shaking his head on the way back to the pavilion after being given out questionably? That’s what you feel. Miserable! To begin with, you are lured to watch a film with a real cricketer’s name as the movie title. And then you are told he might have nothing to do with it!
But is the movie still entertaining enough? Let’s find out.
Hats off to the makers and director Tony D’Souza for bravely using real names of cricketers who are part of Azhar’s team. This makes the entire plot look believable. With a disclaimer like that in the start, is there any reason to worry even if they rub anyone the wrong way? What matters is entertaining the audience about a journey of a cricketer and highlighting three important talking points of his life: his success, the match-fixing controversy and his two wives (Naureen and Sangeeta Bijlani).
Tony D’Souza doesn’t waste any time exploring the unnecessary. He sticks to the brief and within the first 10 minutes, prepares a strong foundation for the film. Yes, he does go back and forth about what Azhar went through in the various stages of his life but that is only part of an intriguing screenplay by Rajat Arora. Some scenes are left incomplete only to be answered in the latter part of the film.
Hyderabad where Azhar has grown up is central to the plot. A peek into his family, his house, gives you a sense of his upbringing where he nursed his passion for cricket. The script digs deep, right to Azhar’s maternal grandfather -- brilliantly played by Kulbhusan Kharbanda – who inspired him to become a cricketer. Certain facts of life learnt from him during his childhood plays a big role when Azhar grows up to play for his country.
Emraan Hashmi as Azhar reminds you again and again this is not a biopic. But does he hold your attention throughout the film? The answer is yes. This film can be considered by far his best performance. He transforms himself into a role that could be considered challenging for any actor. His mannerisms, his style, his body language are synonyms with the real life cricketer. Who said a lookalike should be part of a biopic?
Prachi Desai is graceful as Azhar’s first wife Naureen. She is the rock behind Azhar when he struggles to establish himself. Nothing but his well-being mattered to her. Unfortunately, Nargis Fakhri as Azhar’s second love Sangeeta Bijlani sleepwalks through her role.
Lara Dutta as the lawyer who tries to prove Azhar guilty is controlled yet aggressive. Kunal Roy Kapoor (Azhar’s lawyer) carries the local Hyderabadi accent well. The unconfident rookie lawyer that he is supposed to be is also part comic relief, part hyperbole. The consistent background score by Sandeep Shirodkar keeps you hooked.
The film does touch upon the dark side of match-fixing and shows how Azhar was deserted by his people during the trying times. In fact, there is also a scene where he is shown accepting money to throw away a match. But how Azhar’s character deals with that situation is for you to find out in the theaters. Contrary to what many would expect, the film is not a one-sided affair. However, by the end of it, Azhar does come out looking like a hero.