There is a scene in Tony D’Souza directed Azhar where Mohammad Azharuddin (Emraan Hashmi), once a swashbuckling batsman and captain of Indian cricket, is watching a movie with his first wife Naureen (Prachi Desai). The film I think is Indra Kumar’s Dil, with Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit that came out in 1990. A quintessential 90s film for a quintessential 90s cricketing superstar. But here is the catch. The theatre that he is watching it in looks like something right out of present day multiplex. Plush seats, dormant well-behaved audience and the works. This is present everywhere in Azhar and tells you more about the film than any narrative strand. The whitewashing. It is this whitewashing of Azharuddhin the player, the character, the man, his career that is a downer. Even when he is at 99* or 108*, he has perfect make-up on, no sweat (this happens only in a single crucial match). We know Azharuddhin was nimble, stylish and graceful with his game. But he was no Roger Federer to not break a sweat. No wonder this is an Azhar endorsed/approved script.
D’Souza tracks Azhar’s crucial points on and off the field even as the match fixing controversy and the subsequent case against his ban is raging on in the present day. But Azhar is unabashed at its reverence for the protagonist to the extent that even the prosecutor Meera – Lara Dutta devoid of spunk or expression – is made a big fan of Azharuddin. She insists that she was a fan but we never see it in her eyes or conduct and she even gets a chance to smile at a parting autograph in the end. It’s never clear what D’Souza (the writer is Rajat Arora) is aiming at with the court scenes – did he try black comedy and miserably failed? Did he think the subject was too dark so it called for some comic relief in the form of Kunaal Roy Kapoor playing Reddy (this particular fact may be the only joke that meets its target), the lawyer fighting for Azhar?
If it was so much about clearing Azharuddin’s name, the least they could have done was given Emraan Hashmi better batting tips. Azhar was no ordinary batsman. The man was worshiped for his effortless free-flowing style. They got the leg-slide flick going but everything else Hashmi does comes across looking like the worst duplicate of Virender Sehwag. If you know your cricket, you know that’s at the other end of the spectrum. The writer probably had a checklist. A leg-side flick, a square cut, a cover drive and of course, one slip catch. Awfully written dialogs don’t help. Azhar himself describes how there are three important battles – between husband and wife, between water and petrol and between India and Pakistan. But credit to him, he makes the sledging match with Javed (alluding to Miandad of course but no second names are taken anywhere, at times with hilarious results – Sachin Bedi anyone? But this is at least understandable.) almost work.
Nargis Fakhri walks in and walks out as Sangeeta Bijilani, ostensibly in her Rockstar form. Everything is paid a lip service and we sit there wondering if it signifies something deep about an Emraan Hashmi movie. D’Souza never manages to achieve the chiaroscuro that colored the life of Azharuddin so much. Yes, this may feel like everyone is talking about a film they wanted to see instead of the one that got made but that isn’t any better either. While including so much of his personal life, the film doesn’t have the gall to judge him for what he did. It’s all about how Azhar meant well, was a man wronged and a man of grit and spirit. It’s the writers and filmmakers adjusting a crooked frame of Azhar on the wall and saying, fixed it for you.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)