Keeping in mind the promotional campaign of the film titled AZHAR, I haven’t seen a better example of the public being fooled by the makers, actors and ‘the man’ together so openly. Making it clear, at first they loudly sell their project to the viewers as ‘An Exciting Biopic’ (including Azharuddin visiting all TV programs/events along with the lead stars) and then begin the film with a brazen declaration that this is not a biopic on Azhar, but only a dramatized presentation of some events inspired from his life taking the required creative liberties. Now if that is not an evident example of cleverly ‘misguiding the end-user’ then I don’t know what else can be.
Moreover in all his pre-release interviews and statements, Emraan Hashmi kept explaining that how he had a real tough time studying and imitating Azhar’s unusual body postures, his walk, his way of playing the famous strokes, his magical wrist moves, his habit of speaking fast, his actual persona on the field interacting with other players and a lot more practicing for weeks and months. But astonishingly, you never find anything of that sort ever while watching the lengthy film except Hashmi trying to walk with a bent shoulder and his collars up as if that was sufficient to portray Azhar on screen fooling the eager viewers.
In short, despite making a sincere effort, I never found the actor anywhere even close to the icon portrayed on screen, except in those few scenes on the field wearing the helmet. To be honest, with all due respect to the practitioner and his trainers (guides), it was 90% Emraan and just 10% Azhar right from the first frame to the last, which in reality is more the fault of his director, not able or willing to see the discrepancies.
Adding to the above, the same can be said for almost everyone featuring in the ‘important cast ensemble’ that ideally has to be the strongest merit of a real life inspired film presented in the name of a bio-pic.
Elaborating on the point, none of the actors chosen to play the known characters of Ravi Shastri, Manoj Prabhakar, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Anil Kumble, Vinod Kambli, Sachin and more are able to make any kind of impact whatsoever (presented as caricatures), becoming the biggest drawback of the film revealing the limited thought process of its writer and director. In other words, the entire group of supporting characters remains unconvincing and under developed in their every single scene and then the blunder mistake of casting Nargis Fakhri as Sangeeta pulls the film down like nobody else. Interestingly Nargis never looked so awful both in her looks and performance ever before in her earlier films. Accompanying her in the acting department Lara Dutta keeps struggling hard in her absurdly written role of the opponent lawyer and Rajesh Sharma doesn’t get enough scenes playing the only bookie shown (as if it’s that easy and accessible) and that too along with a blurry image of person reminding you of notorious ‘Dawood’.
Putting it bluntly, there is only Prachi Desai (as Azhar’s first wife) and Kunal Roy Kapur (as Hashmi’s lawyer) who prove out be the only two actors making some kind of impact in their onscreen portrayals. Otherwise AZHAR is a film that actually suffers a lot due to its ‘wrong casting choices’ made apart from the poor writing, execution and direction.
Coming straight to the point with the match-fixing case, the film begins well moving back and forth in time focusing on Azhar remembering his initial years of life sitting in the court room. The first 20 odd minutes give you the impression of a responsible film keeping the interest alive, but very soon one gets to know that they are actually not interested in talking about Cricket but only the court case and his love life ignoring a lot hell of the things one really wished to see in the projected bio-pic. Still at interval it somehow remains an average entertainer minus the most desiring component i.e. the game.
However post interval as the focus completely shifts to Manoj (Prabhakar) and Sangeeta Bijalani poorly played by Nargis Fakhri, the film nosedives steeply and never gets back on the track despite a few engaging sequences. The love affair hinders the pace pretty badly and some immature courtroom scenes turn it into a huge disappointment ending on a routine note where the hero gets declared ‘not guilty’.
As usual, a couple of songs get inserted since they have to be there fulfilling a Hindi film requirement as a mandatory clause. And we yet again get to hear the typical music arrangements with some good poetic verses (deliberately adding Urdu words), rendered by the similar sounding voices moving to the unrequired high pitch tones (read screaming). A reworked version of “Oye Oye” is just unbearable and the original sounds better even today (though it also isn’t an original in the first place). The background score fails to add any exciting value into the narration and so does cinematography that remains unable to present the match sequences in any appreciable manner.
In fact these particular scenes of the cricket match, once again raise a valid question that why we are not able to recreate the game on the bigger screen expressing the same enthusiasm as we feel while watching it on our TV screens? Why in almost every Hindi film based on cricket, the on-field scenes always turn out to be quite amateurish and messy with only a couple of exceptions there like LAGAAN. Unfortunately the same gets repeated here in AZHAR too where we don’t even get to see a good coverage of the spirited crowd cheering for their teams even in a match between India and Pakistan (and you really need a vision to avoid showcasing the crowd in a match between these two rivals). Besides it was quite weird to see a highly absurd interaction between the chief of the selector’s committee and Azhar in an empty ground with a tape-recorder being used to play the noise of the crowd.
A bio-pic or a film inspired from real life events of a sports icon actually requires loads of research and solid preparation on paper before going on floor. And when it’s a film on the happening life of a controversial icon like Azharuddin, then the makers certainly have a solid subject in hand that has all the probabilities of becoming a big hit among the masses as well as the classes.
Sadly AZHAR is not able to deliver the desired in either its story telling, direction or dialogues department ruining big expectations of many, particularly of the fans who were more interested in knowing the lesser known facts about their icon’s inspiring passion for the game and his cricketing secrets. Strangely the makers went on promoting the film as a bio-pic when it had nothing at all related with Azhar’s famous persona of a cricketer, any information about his personal career guru or ideal, the story behind his innovative style of using the wrists, his state of mind making 3 consecutive centuries in the first three tests, his famous fight with Navjot Siddhu, his relation with the youngest player of the team Sachin Tendulkar and a lot more about those blessed days of glory lived with the entire team. The film isn’t interested in talking about any such thing but is only busy in presenting Azhar as an ex-captain fighting a case of match fixing filed against him by the authorities.
At times, this single agenda style of narration also makes you think that was this film purposefully made to clear the dicey image of Azharuddin in front of the cricket loving nation? The possibility is right there, but contradicting the thought, a highly shocking and ridiculous justification given for a horrendous crime committed by the onscreen Azhar is so much hurting for a true cricket fan that one seriously begins to think that ‘Did he really do it?’
The deadly insertion comes when the film shows Azhar taking money from a bookie for throwing away an important match abroad. The unexpected sequence simply makes you go numb and the situation worsens when Azhar later doesn’t underperform as per the instructions given by the bookie, but returns the money taken giving a silly justification that he actually agreed to do it so that the amount doesn’t get offered to any other player in the team keeping it all clean. This offensive and unforgivable step taken by the Captain of Indian team definitely hurts the most (if you are a true Cricket fan) and one really feels the pain like a strong betrayal coming from a Nation’s Hero followed since last three decades.
Ironically with Azhar himself being there supporting the film, providing all the source material to the writers, the inexcusable instance might be true. But I personally would love to believe that it was one of those big creative liberties taken by the script writers, since I would not be able to respect the icon any more if the crime was actually committed with any kind of noble motive whatsoever. Also because this would in turn force me to accept that match-fixing does exists and there is a lot hidden behind the curtains that might include many more big names shattering all our beliefs about Cricket being a gentleman’s game followed by almost every single Indian since the last century.
Anyway, having slammed the film above mentioning all its big downers, here are the three positive features of AZHAR that thankfully save the project from becoming a complete non-performer.
A. The engaging sequence of the match against Pakistan with a dialogue with Mian Dad and the important catch (despite the tacky execution).
B. The touchy reference of public humiliation faced by Azhar while inauguration a gym (that every celebrity would easily relate with).
C. And the unconvincing yet interesting twist in the court case calling Lara Dutta as a witness, who is also a big fan of Azhar, turning the tables on her.
In all, you can still go for the film taking it as a fictional filmy account of a cricketer not talking about cricket at all, if you must. But if you wish to see a bio-pic on the former Indian Captain’s prime years on the field and his untold secrets of the game, then AZHAR is going to be a big disappointment offering nothing in those terms, failing in almost all its departments.
In simple words, its a poor film falsely presented as a bio-pic of a renowned cricketer to the nation that treats Cricket as a religion. A film that unfortunately confirms the existence of distressing match-fixing in the game, resulting in no emotional feelings felt for its lead character. A film that could have been a lot more with such an explosive and potent subject focusing on a major controversy. And a film that can easily be termed as a big life-time opportunity missed by its director Tony D’Souza.
Rating : 2 / 5