Azhar, directed by Tony D'Souza and written by Rajat Arora, is a sports biopic based on the life of Indian cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin. Produced by Balaji Motion Pictures and Sony Pictures Networks, Azhar stars Emraan Hashmi, Prachi Desai, Nargis Fakhri, Kunaal Roy Kapur, and Lara Dutta in the pivotal roles. The events in the movie are presented in a nonlinear fashion and from the perspective of Azharuddin. Just after scoring a century in his 99th Test Match, Azhar learns that he has been banned for life by the Indian cricket board on account of the former South African captain Hansie Cronje's allegations that Azhar was the one to introduce him to the bookies. Having fallen from grace, suddenly he finds himself all alone. None of his former teammates are willing to come out in his support. But, he is hell-bent on regaining his lost prestige. So, a dejected Azhar requests his reluctant lawyer friend to take up his case. On the insistence of the lawyer friend after he reluctantly accepts the case, Azhar begins to narrate the larger-than-life tale of his meteoric rise and unceremonious fall as a celebrity cricketer.
Hashmi makes painstaking efforts portray the complex character of Azhar, perfecting many of his mannerisms, albeit with the exception of speech and accent.
Azhar proves to be an engaging multi-genre film that seamlessly blends elements of a sports movie, biopic and courtroom drama into one. The acting is solid all around. Among the support cast, Lara Dutta and Kunaal Roy Kapur stand out -- each playing the part of a lawyer but with contrasting personalities. While Dutta is feisty and arrogant, Kapur is rather composed and easy-going in his approach. Together they brilliantly construct the courtroom scenes. Of course, credit for this must also go to the director and the writer. As for Emraan Hashmi, it is quite heartening to see him push himself out of his comfort zone. For a change from his usual typecasting as a "serial kisser", Hashmi makes painstaking efforts portray the complex character of Azhar, perfecting many of his mannerisms, albeit with the exception of speech and accent. While Nargis Fakhri is a sight to behold as Azhar's ravishing muse Sangeeta Bijlani, Prachi Desai manages to hold her own as the cricketer's devoted wife.
Azhar lacks objectivity. It works to vindicate Azhar with little efforts made to show the other side of the picture.
As a fictionalized account of the life and times of one of the most successful Indian cricket captains, Azhar serves as a colourful reminder of a bygone era of cricket and succeeds in highlighting the passion, euphoria and madness associated with the sport in cricket-crazy India. How the captain doesn't merely represent a team of 11 players but a country of more than 1 billion people. How dearly a victory is cherished. How badly a defeat is regretted. How a nobody can become a hero overnight. How quickly a hero can become a villain. Azhar also touches upon the sensitive subject of match-fixing which continues to plague the game of cricket at different levels, and highlights the insecurity of modern sportsmen in competitive sports. But, as one would expect from a biopic of a famous living personality, Azhar lacks objectivity. It works to vindicate Azhar with little efforts made to show the other side of the picture.
Just like Azhar's career and life, the movie also has its highs and lows, but there is not a moment in there that can be described as boring.
Overall, Azhar, despite its flaws and inconsistencies, proves to be an engaging cinematic experience. How it succeeds in weaving together different genres is quite commendable. The movie's real highlight is its nonlinear narrative constructed using brilliant flashbacks thanks to some topnotch editing. While the movie doesn't back down from taking swipes at Azhar's teammates such as Manoj Prabhakar, Ravi Shastri, Navjot Singh Sidhu and even Kapil Dev, it strangely eschews touching upon Azhar's bitter rivalry with Sachin Tendulkar or Sangeeta Bijlani's much-talked-about affair with Bollywood superstar Salman Khan. The movie brings back some fond memories of Mohammad Azharuddin's decorated career as a middle-order batsman. It also reflects upon his gradual shift from being a conservative middle-class Muslim to a celebrity living a bohemian lifestyle. Just like Azhar's career and life, the movie also has its highs and lows, but there is not a moment in there that can be described as boring. Azhar is a movie that no cricket lover can afford to miss.
Rating: B +
A version of this review was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges.