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‘Azhar’ Review: Hashmi’s Acting Is The Only Honest Thing In This ‘Problematic’ Film

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By Neetole Mitra:

444481-azharBiopics seem to be the latest obsession for Bollywood. Over the past few years they have bombarded us with a huge variety – Paan Singh Tomar, Mary Kom, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, The Dirty Picture to name a few. However, more often than not, these attempts have stayed afloat in a state that’s barely above PR. But none have done so as obviously as Tony D’Souza’s Azhar.

This week’s release, the much-awaited biopic of one of India’s most prominent and accomplished cricketer who rose to fame as fast as he fell from it, had all the right cinematic ingredients. Struggle, fame, a scandalous and widely reported extra-marital affair and the baap of all controversies – match fixing.

Mohammad Azharuddin belonged to that era of Indian cricket when fans piously held their breaths as their heroes performed on the pitch for India (I know because I did too). It was a different era for cricket, the 90s. The audience was still to fathom the business that happens behind it and the great stakes that our men in blue have at their disposal. For us, Azzu was the captain and Cricket was the new religion.

However, that was before the man was dragged down from the pedestal by one the vilest charges that could have plagued cricket as a whole in our country. Md. Azharuddin had allegedly sold his nation and his team for money; changing the way we perceived the sport forever.

Thus, when the Emraan Hashmi starrer Azhar tried to mollycoddle the entire matter as though nothing had really happened and the ex-captain was just the Dark Knight of Indian cricket who was simply trying to save the rest of this team from the corrupt grips of the bookies, I wondered why no one burnt effigies or protested against this one!

The only thing that stays with you from the film is Emraan Hashmi’s earnest and sincere portrayal of the shy boy from Hyderabad who can’t talk to girls. Azhar depends a lot of the personal life of the cricketer, with elaborate episodes of Azharuddin’s relationship with his first wife, Naureen.

However, Naureen doesn’t rise above the silent, pretty and samajhdar bahu, something Prachi Desai has much experience playing and she isn’t even allowed to break the stereotype as the camera and the emotions of the film forcefully veer towards Azhar throughout. Reminding the audience that everyone else is a supportive character you don’t need to know much about. Hear what we have to say. Don’t ask for extra details.
The same treatment is meted out to Sangeeta Bijlani’s character, played by the rather inelegant (on screen) Nargis Fakhri. Her gestures, tears and laughter, are all so forced it feels as though she is a stand-up comedy club. But what’s worse is the content that surrounds her. She is the ‘hot heroine’ who struts her way into luxurious hotels but please don’t judge her because she doesn’t sleep around with “cricketers or married men.”

Yet again, the camera pans to Azhar (Emraan Hashmi) – the poor man who just can’t help falling in love with her. What with Bijlani being all over TV screens and film halls (rolling eyes). Honestly, they couldn’t have come up with a sillier excuse to justify an extramarital affair. Why can’t we call a rat a rat? And the sheer tactlessness with which the film deals with Naureen (the first wife) after this is horrific, to say the least. She is discarded without us venturing into any of the ugly details. Why? To save the cricketer’s face? To avoid those uncomfortable moments of discussing money and alimony? To stop the on-screen Naureen to tell the world that she has been wronged and she demands justice for it?

It’s intriguing that that amount of screen time Tony D’Souza spends in fleshing out Azhar’s domestic life with Naureen doesn’t seep through to the Azhar-Sangeeta relationship. It’s as though that marriage never happened. It was just an affair. But I am literally squirming in my seat – what happens next? How does the marriage happen? Why do they get divorced? (Not because I’m desperate for gossip but because the film has already revealed so much personal details from the lives of these celebrities that it just feels incomplete to leave it abruptly.)
No, I won’t be unfair to Azhar. This is a gripping film. There’s a lot happening: a great amount of emotional journey is made, there’s rise and fall and Emraan Hashmi’s Azhar is (strangely) someone you sympathise with. But if only Azhar were just Hashmi and not the real Mohammed Azharuddin – my review would have been more positive. Watch this if you don’t care about the politics but want some typical Bollywood entertainment over the weekend.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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