Azhar lacks spine. It is evident in the long disclaimer preceding the film in which the team seems to be making a claim on cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin’s colourful and controversial life as a source material yet maintaining that it is a fictional account. All to escape the legal battles the film could land them in.
Azharuddin (Emraan) is a fascinating character to have built a dispassionate film on. A man, who rose meteorically because of his game, the way he let his bat do all the talking on the field. He fell from favour just as fast because of his covetousness and his alleged involvement in the match-fixing scandal that rocked cricket. He is a man of frailties and shortcomings both on the field of cricket and in the arena of love. But instead of exploring the many shades of grey in him, Tony D’Souza attempts to defend and validate him. Such is the bias that the other players — Manoj, Ravi, Navjot (only first names, no surnames mind you) — get the wrong end of the stick.
Manoj is made to come across not just as jealous and vengeful but selfish, playing for himself than the country and crude and unrefined to boot. Ravi is nothing but a rake. As though that wasn’t enough you have Kapil tell Azhar: “Class ke nalayak bachche monitor ko sabse zyada pareshan karte hain” (It’s the good-for-nothing kids who trouble the class monitor the most). Poor Azhar!
Such is the eagerness to justify him that D’Souza makes it seem as though the whole bad world is out to get him. From his haughty fan-turned-prosecutor Mira (Lara Dutta) to the condescending owner of the gym that he inaugurates. Why he took the Rs. 2 crore from bookie M.K. Sharma and what he did with the money is portrayed in such a way as to earn him some desperate brownie points.
Even his walking away from an ostensibly fine marriage into the arms of actress Sangeeta Bijlani (Nargis) is turned into a soppy inevitability with him righteously mouthing lines like: Rishte tootne se khatam nahin ho jaate (A broken relationships doesn’t actually mean an end of it). But what of Naureen (Prachi), the one who was wronged?
When it comes to the craft, the film looks too outmoded in the way it has been mounted — the loud background score soaring over everything else and dialoguebaazi in the name of conversations. “Film beech se samajh nahin aati, rewind karo” someone says to take us on a flashback into Azhar’s life. Then there are some more bombastic lines. A friend telling Azhar: Dua kar sakta hoon, namaaz khud padhni hogi (I can pray for you, but you will have to read the namaaz yourself).
The lines, some of them utterly inane and vacuous, reminded me of heavy duty dialogues of Once Upon A Time In Mumbai. In that masala flick they seemed entertaining, here desperately out of place.
Azharuddin’s love for his grandfather becomes a way to draw out melodrama; he gets selected in the national team just as granddad breathed his last. And then there is Azhar’s father’s obsession with his underwear: the mandatory crass comedy track.
In the name of acting you have Emraan being stiff, staring deep into the camera, looking far from his comfortable self. Prachi and Nargis weep buckets when they are not being coy. Nargis does it most inelegantly. If that wasn’t all there is also Kunaal Roy Kapur as Azhar’s lawyer. As yet another stereotype of the South Indian in Bollywood, he irritates to the hilt. So does the film.
2015 Kashmir Despatch