SHAHID is not a biopic. It is a tour, designed by Hansal Mehta that is sure to take your breath away. Just as it is raw in its selection of location, it is as sublime in its execution and performances.
Rarely has a movie impacted one so much as to prod someone to google the life of a Human Rights Activist who stood up for what he believed and died for what he did. There are no sides taken by Mehta; he just presents his findings on screen. It could have been a boring affair, but this is no boring life.
SHAHID is about noted lawyer Shahid Azmi who was gunned down in his office in Kurla on the night of February 11, 2010. He was just 32 years old.
Within the first nine minutes, Hansal casts a powerful spell on the viewer. And he does not break this spell; not even 120 minutes later, when the film ends. Within the first nine minutes, you are tempted to look for flaws, I find none. Except one, towards the fag end when a courtroom scene is dramatized with the dead Shahid alternating between his lawyer friend as the case of Faheem Ansari, a 26/11 Mumbai attacks accused, who he was fighting for, nears its end. Ansari is set free for lack of evidence.
The film begins in Taximen's colony, Kurla, in Shahid's office, with the sound two gunshots, preceded with the activity of his peon. It then moves back to 1992, when the Mumbai riots post the Babri-Masjid demolition was just about flaring. Shahid, then a teenager, hears a cry and goes out to investigate. On the streets, he is horrified at what he sees. He manages to escape back to his home. But the carnage he sees impacts his mind. He flees to Pakistan Controlled Kashmir picking up the gun. Soon, he runs away from the camp as well, after he sees the mayhem there. CHECK OUT: Raj Kumar Yadav starrer SHAHID receives 'A' certificate; may be edited for satellite release
On a tip-off, after his return home, he is arrested under TADA and serves seven years in Delhi's Tihar Jail. He is later released for lack of evidence. But in prison, he begins to study law and then starts his own practice after being disillusioned by lawyers who ply their trade only for money.
He sets up a legal service where he fights for those who have been detained illegally without evidence and branded a terrorist. He fights their cases with passion and sees them through. In the seven years he practices law, he has a high acquittal rate. But somewhere, someone is not able to handle this routine, or the types of cases he picks. But he claims that he only took the case of those who he knew were innocent and were being framed, and who had no means to fight back.
Threats start pouring in, and soon his family life is affected. But Shahid gallantly fights for what he thinks is right.
Even the romance between Shahid and Mariam is so alluring without being overbearing. Hansal is able to handle the rough with the smooth, with equal aplomb. The eagerness and gentleness of Shahid, and the 'in-your-face' charm of Mariam, a married client with a son, is stuff of what love stories are made of. Hansal maps Shahid's interest in her, his proposal, her rejection and ultimate yes without getting into a fuss (read song and dance).
The courtroom scenes are brilliance personified. First with the public prosecutor played by Vipin Sharma and then with Shalini Vatsa where he is arguing the Ansari case. Shalini is super-duper.
Now for the main protagonist; Raj Kumar Yadav soars several notches higher with his finesse in performance and understanding of the character. He is 'pitch perfect' in every scene. Body language, voice modulation in key scenes, and even scenes where is 'just there'. Brilliant.
In the recent past, two biopics on Pan Singh Tomar and Milkha Singh have caught the eye with their main protagonists, Irrfan Khan and Farhan Akhtar respectively.
Yadav leads this pack by almost 100 metres!
Prabhleen Sandhu too gives off a terrific performance, beauty with brains! Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub who acts as Shahid's elder brother and Baljinder Kaur (his mother) along with the assorted cast, cast a spell, in their own individual way without taking anything away from the performance of the other.
SHAHID, releases on Friday. It has no Id release lined up to rake in the moolah at the Box Office, but its makers have Box Office confidence of showing it almost a week in advance.
Book your tickets, first day, first show! Cinema at its best.