Direction: Hansal Mehta
Shahid Azmi’s life was both fascinating and tragic and Hansal Mehta renders his tale displaying exceptional craft. A taut narrative and commendable performances ensure that the director never loses grip despite a sometimes labored pace.
The director does complete justice to a complex story like ‘Shahid’ that is at once disturbing and inspiring. We follow Shahid’s early life - his resistance to systematic brainwashing, his refusal to bow down to unfortunate circumstances and his undaunted will to rise above injustice and prejudice.
There’s a big lesson to be learned here – our response to situations, no matter how unfair they might be, defines us and who we chose to become. Shahid dispelled the notion that succumbing to violence is probably the only fitting reply to discrimination by an apathetic state. He emerges an unlikely messiah, his own unfortunate experience empowering him to understand the plight of innocent undertrials.
Mehta takes us through the narrow bylanes of Mumbai to poor Muslim localities, helping us understand that Shahid and many others like him not only fight communalism but there every day life is a struggle where something as basic as an attempt to educate oneself is an arduous task. It’s easier to accept your minority status and accede to a ghettoized mentality than constantly fight it.
There’s a particular scene that remains etched in memory; when despite all the courage Shahid (Raj Kumar) has shown, his soot stained face is outlined against a blurred sky and he looks up, as if questioning, if there’s ever a going to be a silver lining?
Raj Kumar belts out yet another solid performance, never missing a beat. We see him evolve as a lawyer from his first case where he defends Zaheer Sheikh, feebly applying for bail each time and later when he thunders away at the prosecution lawyer in the Faheem Khan case. When the opposition makes insinuations to his past, he asks her over and over again, who is on trial, thus, reiterating, that justice delayed is indeed justice denied. Once you are labeled a terrorist, you live with that, no matter how much you try to move past the tag.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is remarkable as the elder brother, indulgent, and yet, indignant when he realizes that his sacrifices are taken for granted. Just because he is the eldest he is expected to be dutifully supportive and there is little thought given to his individual dreams and aspirations.
Kay Kay Menon and Tigmanshu Dhulia are first class in their bit roles. Prabhleen Sandhu is effective as the wife, smart and conflicted.
Hansal Mehta expects the audience to fill in some of the detail and at times, it leaves you a little disconcerted, like the time, when you suddenly see Shahid at a training camp. But Mehta has made a bold film, that resorts to no shortcuts.
‘Shahid’ is a compelling story, intense and engaging, definitely a must watch.
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