Azhar helmed by Tony D'Souza has turned to be a strictly average Bollywood film which fails to hit the right chords because of its botched up content and unadorned execution. It's a well known fact that most of Indians are passionate about two things ; Cricket and Bollywood. And, celebrities from both these fields are idolized by many. So, when news of match fixing scandal broke out in 2000 involving Azhar's name, most of the cricket fans were shell shocked. The CBI reports clearly stated that Azhar had confessed of his involvement in the same. Mohammad Azharuddin's life story has all the quintessential elements to make for a engrossing Bollywood drama as he has been one of India's most successful cricket captain whose second marriage was with a Bollywood actress and most importantly was accused of match fixing in lieu of money. So, when a Biopic on Azhar was announced audience was looking forward to know what all happened behind the scenes especially as far as match fixing is concerned. What kind of trauma and pain Azhar went through when those allegations were leveled against him. But, disappointingly the film begins with a long disclaimer clarifying that the film is not a biopic and is just inspired by the life events of Azhar with several cinematic liberties been taken while making the movie. And, this is where the film misses its marquee. What could have turned out to be an engrossing sports drama, gets reduced to the personal life story of Azhar. And, on top of it you get a feeling that the film has been made with an intention to turn all the grey shades of Azhar's character into white. While we were hoping to get an insight on the grey dealings that occur in the name of match fixing, what we get to see is personal story of Mohammad Azharuddin unspool on-screen replete with cinematic cliches and melodrama. Though, there are references to other cricketers but they are too few and far. Also, the film looks like a P.R. exercise of Azhar as it paints him in good light while casting aspersions on characters of his fellow cricketers. Manoj Prabhakar has been shown as a cricketer who was not only jealous of Azhar but played for his own vested interests rather than country. To corroborate this the film cites an example of India-West Indies match where Manoj made a century but his slower batting rate cost India that match. It shows Ravi Shastri as a womanizer. The film shows how some senior cricketers were unhappy when Azhar was made captain of Indian cricket team. It also shows that some fellow cricketers like Navjot Sidhu and Kapil Dev refused to come in support of Azhar when match fixing allegations were leveled against him. The film also in a way justifies the fact that he cheated on his first wife, Naureen portrayed by Prachi Desai as he fell in love with a popular film actress,Sangeeta Bijlani portrayed by Nargis Fakhri. Though, when Sangeeta meets Azhar in the film she clearly states that she follows two rules ; never date a cricketer or a married man. And, two scenes later she is seen romancing a man who is both cricketer as well as married. Right from the courtroom scenes to the matches, everything lacks excitement. The film could have managed to create a curiosity with respect to the courtroom scenes especially the judgement in match fixing case but the way writers etch out the character of Azhar as a man with good traits, you can always guess what is going to be the outcome. In short, what could have turned out to be a exciting, controversial entertainer turns out to be a ordinary flick revolving around the goodness of its protagonist.
The story, screenplay and dialogues of the movie have been penned down by Rajat Arora. Rajat has mostly concentrated on sketching out the personal details of the film's protagonist and not focused much on the controversies. When the film opens up with Manoj Prabhakar doing a sting operation on the cricketers, you get a feel that something exciting is going to follow and skeletons will start tumbling out of the closet but alias! it never happens. He has painted the protagonist of the movie as pristine as white. In a cricket movie, you have a urge to see what all goes inside the players room and what other fellow players of Azhar were like but they are merely reduced as sidekicks. The film in a way justifies whatever Azhar does and portrays him as so righteous that he could never be involved in match fixing. In the process, film fails to etch out the characters of others around him. On top of it, the film follows a non linear pattern of storytelling which keeps shifting from 1980s to early 2000s which leaves you a tad confused at times. The film begins with Azhar (Emraan Hashmi) completing his 99th Test match. Meanwhile, a jealous fellow cricketer Manoj carries out a sting operation involving Azhar in a match fixing scandal. We start hearing names like Hansie Cronje, M K Sharma (Rajesh Sharma) and others who are involved in the scandal. Azhar's life is tormented as overnight he is branded as a traitor instead of Hero. B.C.C.I. imposes a ban on him from playing cricket. He decides to fight his case in court and hires his childhood friend, Reddy (Kunaal Roy Kapur) as his lawyer. He starts narrating his life's journey to Reddy and a flashback ensues. Right from his childhood, Azhar was a introvert and his maternal grandfather (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) instills confidence in him to play cricket and nurtures a dream to see Azhar play 100 test matches for India. Azhar gets selected in Indian cricket team and scores three successive centuries on his debut in International cricket. He goes for an arranged marriage with Naureen (Prachi Desai). He is appointed captain of cricket team much to dislike of some senior players. His paths cross with gorgeous actress Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri) and they fall in love. The introvert Azhar undergoes a transformation and becomes more suave wearing expensive watches. Azhar even dedicates one of his awards to Sangeeta making his love for her come out in open domain. The court case begins where the prosecution lawyer is Meera (Lara Dutta) who was once an ardent Azhar fan.
Emraan Hashmi has delivered an earnest performance as Mohammad Azharuddin in the movie. Though, his looks are not that familiar to that of Azhar but he has certainly caught up with some of his mannerisms. His body language, walking style are reminiscent to that of Azhar. It is definitely quite different from what we have seen of Emraan Hashmi, lately. He is at his usual best while romancing both Prachi as well as Nargis including his famous trademark lip-lock scenes.
Prachi Desai has done an outstanding job while portraying the character of Naureen, Azhar's first wife. Prachi has put her heart and soul into the character of this simpleton woman. She is a treat to watch in the scene where she confronts Azhar and reminds him that it was she who stood by him during his struggling days and not Sangeeta.
Nargis Fakhri does an average job as Sangeeta in the movie. She is good as far as glamor quotient of the movie is concerned but when it comes to acting, she has a long way to go.
Kunaal Roy Kapur has come up with effective performance as Azhar's buddy as well as Lawyer, Reddy. So has Lara Dutta as the prosecution lawyer who wants to get Azhar convicted. Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Gautam Gulati, Rajesh Sharma, Manjot Singh have played their parts well.
The musical soundtrack of the movie that has been composed by Pritam, Amaal Mallik & DJ Chetas is good. The cinematographer of the movie is Rakesh Singh who has done a swell job at capturing visuals. He has captured the outdoor locales of London as well as Hyderabad with aplomb. The movie has been edited by Dev Jadhav who has kept the run-time of movie to 131 minutes. As a director, Tony D'Souza has failed to capitalize on the story of Mohammad Azharuddin. Tony has helmed the movie in a simplistic straight forward way so as make to make his protagonist sound like having no grey areas. Had it been a regular Bollywood movie, it might have worked. But for a biopic and that too on a controversial cricket star embroiled in match fixing, this treatment seems far fetched and fickle. I am writing this because while watching the movie you get a feel that Azhar was the perfect, righteous player in the team while his fellow players had their own respective grey areas. And, when you are watching any sports film you obviously expect to watch some well executed on-field scenes which are missing from the movie. Moreover, elements of passion, surprise, tension are missing from the film.
Azhar had the potential to be a gripping controversial sports drama but its botched up content coupled with regular treatment spoils the fun and it ends up being a lame, timid film.
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