The unlikely lawyer as an unlikely hero

Shahid Azmi's life had all the twists and turns of a Bollywood film, without the happy ending of one. He might have appreciated this latest. A movie based on the lawyer and human rights activist, who had been defending a key accused in the 26/11 case when he was shot dead, is headed for the Toronto International Film Festival to be held in September.

Shahid, produced by Anurag Kashyap and Sunil Bohra, will have its world premiere at the festival's 'City to City' programme in which Mumbai is the focus this time. Love Sex aur Dhokha actor Rajkumar Yadav plays the lead role.

Director Hansal Mehta says it was "the incompleteness" of Azmi's life that attracted him. Azmi was just 32 when he was killed but in his short life, he had seen a lot — all of which Mehta faithfully details.

When he was barely 14, Azmi was arrested for violence during the communal riots that rocked Mumbai between December 1992 and January 1993. In 1999, he was arrested under the now defunct TADA for allegedly conspiring to assassinate Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, but later acquitted.

While in Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail, he started his college education, and enrolled for a law degree after acquittal. "It was in jail where his transformation from a shy boy to a strong human rights activist began, and it is here that I find hope in Shahid's life," says Mehta.

In his brief, seven-year career as a lawyer, Azmi earned a reputation for taking on cases of Muslims charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, many of which he fought pro bono in consultation with NGOs such as Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Hind. It was while he was defending Fahim Ansari in the 26/11 attacks case that he was killed in February 2010. Earlier, Azmi had also represented accused in the 7/11 Mumbai local train blasts, the 2006 Aurangabad arms haul, the 2006 Malegaon blast and the 2005 Gateway and Zaveri Bazar blasts.

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