Shahid (film)

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Shahid
Shahid Poster (2013).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHansal Mehta
Produced byAnurag Kashyap
Sunil Bohra
Ronnie Screwvala
Siddharth Roy Kapur
Written bySameer Gautam Singh
StarringRajkummar Rao
Tigmanshu Dhulia
Kay Kay Menon
Prabhleen Sandhu
Prabal Panjabi
Music byKaran Kulkarni
CinematographyAnuj Dhawan
Edited byApurva Asrani
Production
company
Anurag Kashyap Films
Bohra Bros Production
UTV Spotboy
Distributed byUTV Motion Pictures
Release date
  • 6 September 2012 (2012-09-06) (Toronto)
  • 18 October 2013 (2013-10-18) (India)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryIndia
LanguageHindi
Budget65 lakh (US$90,000)[1]
Box office3.60 crore (US$500,000)[2]

Shahid is a 2013 Indian Hindi language biographical drama film directed by Hansal Mehta. Jointly produced by Anurag Kashyap, UTV Spotboy and Sunil Bohra, it is based on the life of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi who was assassinated in 2010. The film stars Rajkummar Rao in the titular role; Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Prabhleen Sandhu and Baljinder Kaur appear in supporting roles.

Mehta took a break after some of his films were box-office failures. When he heard about Azmi's murder, he felt the need to make a film about his life. He began his research for the film nearly three months after Azmi's murder. Mehta met writer Sameer Gautam Singh, who wrote the screenplay after researching Azmi's life and spending months interviewing Azmi's family. Apurva Asrani did additional work on the screenplay with Mehta. Asrani also served as the film's editor. Anuj Dhawan was the director of photography.

Shahid had its world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival's City to City programme in 2012. It was screened at several other film festivals including the 14th Mumbai Film Festival, the New York Indian Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival Stuttgart, the Dubai International Film Festival and the Chicago South Asian Film Festival. The film was awarded the Silver Gateway Trophy at the Mumbai film festival while Mehta won the Best Director award. Mehta also won the best director award at New York Indian Film Festival and at the Indian Film Festival of Stuttgart. The film was released theatrically in India on 18 October 2013 and met with critical acclaim. Rao received the Best Actor Award and Mehta the Best Director Award at the 61st National Film Awards ceremony.

Plot[edit]

Shahid Azmi and his family are terrorised during the Bombay riots, when hundreds of Muslims died. Later he goes to Kashmir and spends a brief period at a militant training camp but soon returns after witnessing an execution. He moves back to Mumbai where he is arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, for an alleged conspiracy to assassinate some politicians. His brother Arif Azmi tries to bail him out but fails. Shahid is tortured by police and forced to admit to the crime, after which he spends seven years at Tihar Jail in New Delhi. During his incarceration Omar Sheikh (Prabal Panjabi) tries to brainwash him. Another inmate, Ghulam Navi Waar, inspires him to begin his college education, and once he is acquitted of the charges, he studies law in Mumbai.

After receiving his law degree, Shahid works with lawyer Maqbool Memon for a few months, before starting his career as an independent lawyer with the financial support of his elder brother Arif. During this process he meets Mariam, a Muslim divorcee, and marries her. Shahid soon starts picking up cases of Muslims charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). He fights many cases pro bono in consultation with non-governmental organizations. Shahid's first major success as a defence lawyer is winning an acquittal, due to lack of evidence, for Arif Paanwala who was arrested under POTA for the 2002 Mumbai bus bombing.

Shahid represents the accused in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings, the 2006 Aurangabad arms haul, and the 2006 Malegaon bombings case. He is criticised for supporting terrorists and starts getting threatening calls that disturb his family life. On one occasion, Shahid's face is blackened by assailants outside the court room. While defending Faheem Ansari in the 2008 Mumbai attacks case, he is shot by two gunmen in his office and dies on the spot. Later, Ansari is shown to be acquitted of all charges by the Supreme Court of India due to lack of evidence.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

"I was very mesmerised by this young lad who had taken on the system on his own. He was killed at 32, but there was so much he had achieved before that. I knew there was a story to tell there."

Mehta on the film.[3]

Development[edit]

Director Hansal Mehta said that he needed a break after some of his films proved to be a box-office failures, like Woodstock Villa (2007) and Raakh (2010).[3] On 11 February 2010, lawyer Shahid Azmi was shot dead in his office in Mumbai at the age of 32.[4] He had represented those accused of the 2006 Mumbai local train blasts, the 2006 Malegaon blasts case and while he was defending Faheem Ansari in the 26/11 attacks case that he was killed.[5] He was arrested during the communal riots of 1992-1993 in Mumbai and later studied law and began defending people arrested on false charges.[6] The lawyer secured 17 acquittals in his seven-year career.[7] Mehta said that when he heard about Azmi's murder, he had a sense that the tale of his life could pull his "creativity out of the rut".[3] He felt that Azmi lived an "ordinary life, with extraordinary conviction to do what he believed was right" and that his story "had to be told".[7] Mehta began his research nearly three months after Azmi's murder.[8] He later met writer Sameer Gautam Singh, who approached Mehta with a script. Mehta said he could not make a film with the script and asked him if he was would co-write another script with him. Singh agreed, and Mehta sent him along with his son Jai Mehta to Azmi's hometown to meet his family. To gather facts they interviewed his family members and friends for two months.[9] Mehta chose not to go with them as he feared that seeing a filmmaker family and friends would "alter the version of Shahid's life they narrated".[3]

Both Mehta and Singh read several of Azmi's cases for the story.[10] Mehta noticed that they were written in simple English that could be understood by anyone: "It told me he was a no-nonsense guy. He wanted to fight the battle and not beat around the bush." Mehta and Singh also met his colleagues, attended court sessions, petitions, litigations and learned how to get a client acquitted.[10] Mehta went to seek permission to make the film; family members expressed their skepticism about the project. Later, they agreed and talked to him about Azmi.[3] The film focused on Azmi's beginnings and two cases he handled: the 2006 Mumbai train bombings and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Mehta combined several of Azmi's petitions into a single case for "clarity and dramatic impact".[7] Mehta said the Azmi's family was supportive of the film.[3]

Casting and filming[edit]

Mehta was looking for "big stars" for the film, but most were not interested because of his earlier failures. At the time, the film's co-producer Anurag Kashyap suggested he cast Rajkummar Rao thinking he was perfect for the role of Azmi. Later, casting director Mukesh Chhabra sent Rao to Mehta's office. Mehta cast him after a screen test. Mehta felt Rao "surrendered himself completely" to the film.[3] In preparing for the role, Rao met Azmi's family and spent time with them to understand the man and his personality. He also studied the Quran and attended courtrooms to understand how lawyers behave.[11][12] Rao said he was "emotionally drained" as the character was challenging and complex. In the scenes where he had to cry, Rao said he could not stop himself, thinking about what Azmi had to go through.[12] Tigmanshu Dhulia, Prabhleen Sandhu, Kay Kay Menon and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub played supporting roles in the film.[12][13] The scene where Azmi's face is blackened by assailants outside a courtroom was a re-enactment of an incident from Mehta's own life. In 2000, members of Shiv Sena who were protesting his film Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!! attacked him and vandalised his office.[7]

Shahid was made on a production budget of 86 lakh (US$120,000) and filmed in complete secrecy.[11][7] It was shot in several Mumbai neighbourhoods Azmi had frequented including Kurla, Govandi and Pydhonie.[10] Mehta chose to shoot in the apartment above Azmi’s ground floor residence in the Taximen's Colony as he wanted to "capture the sense of claustrophobia and unkemptness of his home".[14] Some portions of the film were shot in Azmi's office and his colony.[15] Shahid was also shot in Nagpada, where Faheem Ansari's wife Yasmin lives.[16] The scenes in the terrorist training camp were shot in Himachal Pradesh.[12]

Mehta decided to depict realistic court scenes based on his team's observation of real courts.[10] They visited the Andheri Court and the Esplanade Court among others, taking photographs to recreate the ambiance for the courtroom scenes.[12] Courtroom sets were built because filming in an actual court is not permitted.[12]

The film's unit consisted of about 17 people because of budget and time constraints; it was made on a budget of 65 lakh (US$90,000).[10][1] The film was shot linearly on a non-linear draft. Mehta said it was filmed guerilla style using all "available digital formats without really worrying about which lens was available".[12] The filmmaker used only natural or minimal lighting.[14] For an interrogation scene, Rao suggested Mehta show him naked as he wanted to "feel the embarrassment, the mental pain of the character."[17] The film's editor, Apurva Asrani, edited the film in a linear order as he felt an earlier version was "not working". Mehta ultimately decided to give him a screenplay credit as he felt Asrani "shaped the narrative" of the film.[10]

Shahid was jointly produced by Kashyap, UTV Spotboy and Sunil Bohra.[18] Azmi had defended Kashyap's film Black Friday in the courts while it was debarred from release by the censor board.[9] Anuj Dhawan served as the film's director of photography.[19] Mehta said that they had a lot of material they did not use as "not all of it could translate into a scene"; he wanted the film to be more accessible.[14] Azmi's brother Khalid Azmi said of the film's authenticity that "it is 95 percent accurate."[9]

Release and reception[edit]

Shahid premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in its "City to City" programme in September 2012.[20][21] The film was screened at several film festivals including the 14th Mumbai Film Festival, the New York Indian Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival Stuttgart, the Dubai International Film Festival and the Chicago South Asian Film Festival.[22][17][23] The film's album soundtrack consisted of one song titled "Beparwah", sung by Arjit Singh.[24] The film's poster, which showed Rao's blackened face, was also released.[25] The official trailer was unveiled on 20 September 2013.[23] The film opened in India on 18 October 2013 around 400 screens.[21][26] A private screening of the film was held for the cast and crew before its release.[27]

Critical response[edit]

Shahid received mostly positive review from the critics with particular praise for Rao's performance.[14][28][29] Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV called it a "gritty, gutsy, bold and brave" film that articulates "uncomfortable truths about contemporary India, its media, its judiciary and, of course, its people."[30] Sify's Sonia Chopra gave a positive review, writing that the film "salutes the man who walked a unique path" and does "full justice to the man and his extraordinary life."[31] Rajeev Masand wrote in his review: "The film itself is brave and unflinching, and oozes the kind of sincerity that you long for in most Hindi films."[32] Madhureeta Mukherjee of The Times of India said the film is "brutally honest, brave and above all a fascinating humane story".[33] Trisha of Firstpost felt Mehta's directorial style echoed "Azmi's own commitment to a truth in which thoughtless actions produce victims, rather than villainy producing heroes."[34]

Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express mentioned in her review that the film "needed to have been made" and Mehta "tells it straight, without any false flourishes". She also praised Rao's performance, saying he "wears the character like skin, and becomes Shahid."[35] India Today's Suhani Singh gave a positive review, writing the film "stops short of hero worship and is a fitting tribute to an inspiring figure."[36] Anupama Chopra praised Rao's performance in the film and called it his "triumph, [..] his Shahid has strength, anguish and a controlled anger, but also real charm."[37] Vinayak Chakravorty of India Today called it a "career-defining role" for Rao and the "biggest reason you will love this unusual film."[38] Baradwaj Rangan called the film a "deeply humanistic drama" and said the film "makes us think, but more often, it makes us feel."[39] Mid Day's Shubha Shetty Saha wrote: "Not often do we get the opportunity to watch a relevant movie that depicts the times we live in, with unblinking directness."[40]

Prasanna D Zore of Rediff.com called it a "gutsy and thought-provoking film", she added that it is not an "in your face film": "It is a subtle, thought-provoking and gutsy story of a person who believed in the power of truth and justice yet knew that the path he had taken was strewn with risks, indifference and ignominy."[41] Saurav Datta of Daily News and Analysis felt the film was "incomplete" without showing Azmi's younger brother's role as he took over his job; he felt the film also concluded with an "abrupt, grinding halt".[42] Mint's Sanjukta Sharma called it an "admirable project" and praised Rao's performance but felt the film fell "short of a masterpiece" as a biopic.[43] Namrata Joshi of Outlook wrote that the film "portrays the psyche of the Indian Muslim in the changing, increasingly polarised India with warmth and simplicity."[44] Reuters' Shilpa Jamkhandikar responded positively to the film and praised Rao's performance: "As Shahid, Raj Kumar injects the right amount of earnestness, anger and vulnerability into his role, to make this one of the best performances we have seen this year."[45] Journalist and writer Rana Ayyub called the film a "brave and worthy tribute to [Azmi's] work and courage."[46]

Among overseas reviewers, Omer M. Mozaffar of RogerEbert.com praised Mehta's direction and called his work a "pleasant surprise": "the lack of polish at first seems like a film school weakness, but grows into a well-crafted asset, especially in his deliberate fades to black."[47] Rachel Saltz of The New York Times gave a positive review writing: "[Mehta] has made a film of conviction that’s neither plodding nor preachy." However, Saltz felt the second half of the film was "truncated and overstuffed".[48] Mohammad Kamran Jawaid of Dawn, gave the film a positive review writing that the two-hour time constraint "means there's little room for the traditional expansion we get from biopics, and if at times Shahid feels like an expanded best-of Mr. Azmi's life, it's because it is".[49]

Shahid was mentioned in critic and author Shubhra Gupta's book, 50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995-2015.[50]

Box office[edit]

Shahid opened to small audiences in theatres and earned a total of 45 lakh (US$63,000).[2] It went on to take in 2.05 crore (US$290,000) at the end of its first weekend.[26] The film performed well with multiplex audiences compared to single screens.[51] It collected 32 lakh (US$45,000) on the fifth day, 30 lakh (US$42,000) on the sixth, and 26 lakh (US$36,000) seventh day. The film's total box office collection at the end of its theatrical run was 3.607 crore (US$500,000).[2]

Awards[edit]

For Shahid, Rao received the Best Actor Award and Mehta the Best Director Award at the 61st National Film Awards ceremony.[52] Rao also won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor at the 59th Filmfare Awards.[53] At the 14th Mumbai International Film Festival, the film won the Silver Gateway trophy and cash prize of 5 lakh (US$7,000) while Mehta won the Best Director award.[54] Mehta won the Best Director award at the New York Indian Film Festival and at the Indian Film Festival of Stuttgart.[55][56]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]