By: Samar Khan
I go into this review with equal amounts trepidation and excitement. Trepidation because the film I am going to be discussing was a colossal failure in terms of what it set out to achieve and excitement because it contained a strong focus on the legal system.
As you all know, we are The Film Lawyers so any chance to see some depiction of the legal system in a film is a welcome sight. I wish the same could be said for the film itself, as Azhar is one of the biggest wastes of potential in recent memory.
The warning bells were ringing from the get-go when the filmmakers went to never before seen lengths to produce and vocalize a disclaimer that the events of the film were NOT biographical in nature and were pure fiction despite being based on the life of real-life Indian cricketer, Mohammad Azharuddin. Instead of sticking with the biopic route that films such as the amazing Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Have managed to deliver in a package of the utmost quality, Tony D’Souza and co. deliver a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be; the movie attempts to create comedic segments followed by dramatic scenes interspersed with thriller-like reveals and tries to tie it all together with a tale of a sports star’s fall and redemption and fails to balance this jumble of scenes. This review has been penned in our typical Bollywood-review style, so feel free to jump ahead to the parts that concern you (Story, Characters, Soundtrack, Total Package).
Recall what I stated above about the film adding in that ludicrous disclaimer during the intro of the film claiming that it was for “entertainment purposes only” and is PURELY FICTIONAL? That was a load of bollocks on the part of the studio, as the film can essentially be summed up as so: a Hyderabad-bred Indian batsman named Mohammed Azharrudin (called Azhar throughout) made his international cricket debut in the 1980s, managed to hit for a century in each of his first three Tests (a century equates to scoring 100 runs in a single match, a notable feat in cricket). Azhar marries a gorgeous woman named Naureen (played by the excellent Prachi Desai, who is utterly wasted in the most misused of appearances), eventually captains the Indian National Cricket team in international test matches, and then becomes embroiled in an affair – and eventual marriage- to an “actress” named Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri, in a performance that is the frontrunner for Worst Female Dramatic Performance of the Year). Azhar is eventually banned for life by India’s National Cricket Association on laughable charges of match-fixing, which he spends nearly a decade trying to overturn in court.
I’ll say this for the writers/producers/director of this film: they definitely will not be subject to any claims of defamation or libel by the titular character, as the film’s lackluster quality is enough shame to last a lifetime. The script is poor, with some of the dialogue causing the auditorium around us to laugh or audibly face palm. The random jumps between present-day and past iterations of Azhar are poorly handled, with audiences having no idea when the scene has transitioned between eras save for overly expository clues in the dialogue that makes the setting plain as day. It’s a shame that the filmmakers didn’t go for subtitles to indicate scene transitions or facial hair evolution for our lead star, with Hashmi portrayed looking exactly the same at 48 as he was at 20 years old. Suffice it to say, do not go into this film expecting Rajkumar Hirani levels of quality filmmaking; prepare to leave with visible marks on your forehead due to incessant face palming and a sore jaw due to chortling at scenes that were unintentionally humorous.
Even the poorest of films can be revived –somewhat- by herculean efforts by the actors. That was clearly not the case here, as much as Emraan Hashmi tried to win over audiences with his rugged charm. Hashmi has developed a reputation as a serial kisser and while that holds true here (has he ever made a film without making out with the female lead at least once?), his acting in certain films has garnered him a reputation as a man that can rise to the occasion. Witness his grungy portrayal in Shanghai or his sleazy director character in The Dirty Picture or even his brilliant effort as a scheming young gangster in Once Upon a Time in Mumbai and you can see he has certain roles where he can absolutely dominate. Azhar was a film that let him down on two fronts; on the one hand, the character is not the malevolent type that he thrives in portrayals of and secondly, the terrible scripting lets him down big time. There’s only so much he can do when given the poorest of lines and it’s a testament to his prowess as an actor that he manages to deliver some of the worst lines of the year in a genuinely believable performance. The problem is, he wasn’t the only one on screen.
Prachi Desai was fantastic as the timid yet loving first wife of the famous batsman. When the script called upon her to deliver, she did and resonated with viewers. Her female counterpart, Nargis Fakhri, was an abject failure in every which way whenever she popped up on screen. The Pakistani beauty has long been criticized for her acting and the issues were on full display here, with every second of her screentime leading to the aforementioned facepalms, chortling, and groans of frustration. The film, in some humorous moments, managed to transcend itself and display a meta quality to it by having Hashmi call her a mere beauty and “not an actress” multiple times. If that was intentional, kudos to the writers. Simply put, Fakhri is not an actress capable of pulling off dramatic roles of this magnitude and her miscasting severely dragged the film down.
For those curious, Fakhri’s character is supposed to represent Sangeeta Bijlani, Salman Khan’s ex-girlfriend. The film goes as far as having Farkhi perform in a remix of Bijlani’s 1989 hit song Oye Oye but she lacks the charisma that the real life character she embodies had in spades. It also doesn’t help that this is the one piece of music in the entire film that seems to have been worked on with less-than-ideal enthusiasm, meaning that Fakhri’s terrible emoting could not have saved the song at all.
Lara Dutta plays Meera and is the other big name in the cast and delivers a mixed bag of a performance herself. While she more than held her own opposite Hashmi, the writing for her character was obnoxious (never before has an on-screen lawyer been as awful at their job in a drama as her character was) as well as poor and served to highlight (lowlight?) the quality of the writing behind the film.
Emraan Hashmi movie? Check. Arijit Singh song? Check. Overall solid soundtrack? Check. Throw in a couple of fantastic tunes by the burgeoning talent that is Armaan Malik (his rendition of Bol Do Na Zara is a treat) and the legendary Sonu Nigam (Tu Hi Na Jaane was about what you would expect nowadays from the top crooner of the 2000’s) and you have the recipe for a soundtrack that helps elevate the film a tad above mediocrity. The soundtrack is accompanied by a score that, while woefully inconsistent due to the film’s inability to determine what tunes to use for what types of scenes, is still catchy and manages to stand out amidst the jumble of scenes that it complements.
I’ve managed to discuss the film without mentioning what comprises nearly the entirety of its final act, that being its focus on Azhar’s trial in the courtroom. This was a real eye-opener and that is not intended as a compliment in any way. After recently viewing the brilliant deconstruction of India’s stance on homosexuality in the drama Aligarh, which spent a sizable duration of its runtime within the confines of a courtroom, and having had the privilege to watch 2015 critical hit Court (another Indian drama centered on the Indian court system), comparisons existed aplenty for which Azhar’s courtroom scenes could be compared to.
The crux of the prosecution’s case essentially boils down to stating that Azhar is guilty because they want him to be and because of their belief that he is guilty, he should be punished. At no point in the film, until the very end, is the audience treated to any actual examples of quality logic in the courtroom. In fact, the case literally ends when Azhar’s lawyer has the audacity to think rationally (surprising, right?) and present evidence as to why the prosecution is wrong. This occurred 8 years into the film’s timeline. I repeat: THIS TOOK EIGHT YEARS TO HAPPEN IN THE MOVIE.
One thing co-writer Muneeb Arshid and others around us noted was that there was absolutely zero reason to side with lead character Azhar as his story did not resonate at all. In fact, the film did an awful job at portraying his philandering and off-field issues, which only served to further hamper Hashmi’s ability to connect with audiences. Everything was working against Hashmi in this film, it seems.
For all of you cricket aficionados out there that think the film MIGHT hopefully offer a somewhat accurate portrayal of the game, guess again. As co-writer Muneeb Arshid (himself a long-time cricket player) made careful note of, the film couldn’t even get the lead actor in proper batting formation throughout the film’s on-field scenes. To make matters worse, many of the scenes were clearly green-screened and poorly edited (there is one scene where Hashmi’s character clearly jumps seconds before the batsman even makes contact with the ball and yet Hashmi catches it heroically) and did absolutely no justice as to the true beauty of the sport.
This could have and should have been a very good film. A biopic of a once-legendary Indian cricketer whose off the field issues served to take away from a career that was a true “rags-to-riches” tale. Instead, audiences are treated to a film that can’t identify what it wants to be and serves its rather remarkable assortment of talent a script and story that just drags everyone down with it. For those in the mood for a Bollywood film, I urge you to wait for something quality and worthwhile to come your way. For now, there is always Netflix and an assortment of classic films.
We here at The Film Lawyers have awarded Azhar with a grade of D (4.5/10).