Shahid (2013) *HQ*

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Shahid traces the true story of slain human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi.From attempting to become a terrorist to being wrongly imprisoned under a draconian anti-terrorism law to becoming a criminal lawyer Shahid traces the inspiring personal journey of a boy who became an unlikely messiah for human rights while following the rise of communal violence in India. This story of an impoverished Muslim struggling to come to terms with injustice, inequality and rising above his circumstances is an inspiring testament to the human spirit.

Some stories ought to be told. They shouldn’t be confined to newspaper cuttings or news-reports on news channels merely, forgotten/ignored soon after a new story [or controversy] takes over. And Hansal Mehta takes the brave step of tracing the journey of noted lawyer Shahid Azmi. Hansal, an accomplished storyteller who lost his way in between [read forgettable films], seems back on track as he documents the tale of the deceased lawyer. SHAHID, a mix of fact and fiction, enlightens the spectators of Shahid’s journey after being arrested during the riots, right till his assassination in 2010.

A stunning documentation on the life and times of Shahid Azmi, SHAHID is brave, courageous and often disturbing and that’s one of the prime reasons why it makes for a fascinating cinematic experience.

While the story of Shahid Azmi makes for an interesting read/conversation, Hansal Mehta makes sure he packages the film with abundant drama [the courtroom sequences are spellbinding] in this less-than-2-hour film. But, at heart, SHAHID remains a disturbing film, with Hansal preparing the viewer at the very outset as Shahid witnesses a gruesome act. The events thereafter — Shahid’s training in a terrorist camp and on return, getting picked up by cops and imprisoned amidst hardened criminals — are chapters that are enlightening.

Hansal tries to be close to reality, filming SHAHID at actual locales — overcrowded neighbourhoods, congested bylanes and cafes — which adds a lot of credibility to the goings-on. The subtle romance between Shahid and Maryam, one of his clients, deviates your attention from the heavy drama that dominates the film. But the highpoint of the film are the courtroom sequences, without doubt.

With SHAHID, Hansal takes a giant leap as a storyteller, bringing his creativity out to the fore. By casting the most appropriate names for the parts, Hansal only cements the fact that it’s the material that can sweep you off your feet. The only time the film falters is when Hansal doesn’t provide details of how Shahid escaped from the terrorist camp and returned to Mumbai safely. The editing [Apurva Asrani] is sharp, with not a dull moment in the narrative.

SHAHID is embellished with superior performances. Raj Kumar portrays the lawyer with brilliance. The sense of vulnerability and helplessness, the uncertain future, the aspirations and just about every emotion that the character encompasses is brought to the fore with ferocious enthusiasm by the actor. Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, last seen in RAANJHANAA, is incredible as Shahid’s brother. Prabhleen Sandhu is exceptional as Shahid’s wife. Also, she has a pleasant screen presence. Kay Kay Menon and Tigmanshu Dhulia, cast in brief but significant characters, are wonderful. Vipin Sharma proves yet again that he’s a remarkable actor. Prabal Panjabi is effective in a cameo. Ditto for Mukesh Chhabra, who enacts the part of a witness. He’s very good. Baljinder Kaur as Shahid’s mother is natural. Shalini Vatsa is first-rate.

On the whole, SHAHID is a brave film. Its gripping story, exceptional execution and bravura performances continue to reverberate much after the screening is over. Strongly recommended!

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