Movie Review: Shahid
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)
The best thing about Hansal Mehta’s “Shahid” is that the filmmaker tries to tell a fascinating story. In a way, it is the story of the city of Mumbai — beginning with the riots that followed the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and leading up to the attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.
These events are depicted through the real-life story of Shahid Azmi, a teenager who gets caught up in the Mumbai riots, and a few months later, finds himself in Pakistan at a training camp for militants. A disillusioned Azmi returns to India but is tortured and imprisoned under the country’s anti-terror laws.
Azmi completes his schooling in jail, and after his release, studies law to help defend those he believes were wrongly accused and jailed on charges of terrorism.
Azmi, who was from a poor family that lived in a slum for a while, got as many as 17 people acquitted before he was shot dead in his office in the suburbs in 2010, while he was handling the case of a defendant in the Mumbai attacks.
Given the source material Mehta has, this is a film that promises to be gripping, and thankfully, the director doesn’t over-dramatize events. He uses a restrained, subtle narrative to tell the audiences Shahid’s story, rarely judging his motives or intentions. Mehta touches all aspects of Shahid’s life — his strained marriage, his relationship with his mother and brothers — never lingering for longer than necessary, and giving us a glimpse into a world not many of us are exposed to.
Even the drudgery of daily court proceedings is made fascinating, thanks to its lead actor. As Shahid, Raj Kumar injects the right amount of earnestness, anger and vulnerability into his role, to make this one of the best performances we have seen this year. The other actors, including Baljinder Kaur as Shahid’s mother, and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as his elder brother are excellent. None of the performances feel like acting — right from the locations to the people who live there, they all seem completely real, and this is a huge strength of the film.
The one grouse with “Shahid” is perhaps it doesn’t tell the whole story, especially at the beginning. I wish Mehta had answered questions of how and why Shahid went to Pakistan, what caused his disillusionment, and made him return. Nevertheless, this is a small grouse with a film that is otherwise uplifting.