By Neetole Mitra:
Biopics 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.