'Shahid' review: It needed to have been made
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Director: Hansal Mehta
The Indian Express rating: ****
'Shahid' tells the story of a real-life person in a most life-like way. Those who know the story of Shahid Azmi, will be aware that the young lawyer was killed in 2010. He died in the line of duty, because he would not be dissuaded from doing the right thing. It is an important tale, and Hansal Mehta tells it straight, without any false flourishes.
If Mehta directs unsparingly, Raj Kumar Yadav acts unflinchingly. His Shahid is a man who grows in front of us, the audience. He does a course correction and changes direction. For a Hindi film protagonist, this kind of arc is rare. So is this story, which calls a spade a shovel, and names names.
"Agar iska naam Donald ya Suresh hota, toh kya yeh yahaan khada hota (If this man's name was Donald or Suresh, would he have been standing here)?" Shahid's question, in a Mumbai court room, addressing a judge, pointing to a man who has been in prison without any proof or evidence, other than his name, rings the changes. There have been so many incidents of false arrests and torture and custody deaths of innocents who were picked up and wrongly confined by the police just because they had the wrong name: if you were Muslim, and poor, and you were in the wrong place, or in the wrong eye, you were guilty of terrorism.
'Shahid' was also one of them. We see the degradation that he has to undergo in a lock-up, naked, stripped of his dignity. More than the marks of the beating, it is the way a fellow human talks to you and demeans you that kills the spirit. But the inspiring thing about Shahid's tale is that he overcame the torture and the beatings, and the shadow of his dark past, and became the man who wanted to protect and save others like him. Raj Kumar Yadav wears the character like skin, and becomes Shahid.
Other performances are finely pitched as well. Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub, after his terrific turn in 'Raanjhana', plays Shahid's brother with as much subtlety. The girl who starts to like Shahid for what he does , and then begins to resent the others' claims on his time is done well by Sandhu. Shalini Vatsa is absolutely believable as the 'madam public prosecutor', pugilistic, chin sticking out. As the practical lawyer who teaches Shahid exactly what not to do, Tigmanshu Dhulia does a nice cameo. Only Kay Kay, as the noble jailed professor who is a deep influence on Shahid, is a trifle stagey, but it doesn't work against the grain of the film.
'Shahid' is gritty, wrenching and powerful. It needed to have been made.
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