Mohammad Azharuddin’s cricket career was in itself nothing short of a soap opera. There were high points. Plenty of them in fact. He was a magician with sinewy wrists who hit three tons from his first three Tests. He was arguably the best fielder to emerge from the subcontinent in the pre-T20 era, and for a major part of the 1990s, Azharuddin was also the man in-charge of Indian cricket. Then, at the same time, it was a career that ended in disgrace, with him receiving a life ban for alleged involvement in match-fixing.
In many ways, the Azharuddin story was literally made for the silver-screen. Still, it took producer Ekta Kapoor 30 visits and meetings to convince the former Indian captain about making a biopic based on his life.
When she did succeed, it was an actor known for his on-screen versatility, Emraan Hashmi, that Kapoor chose for the role. On Thursday, Azharuddin and the man playing him were both present for a preview presentation of the biopic in Mumbai. A teaser that was aptly named Ek Khuda, Do shaadi aur match-fixing (One God, two wives and match-fixing) and captured the essence of his dramatic career on-and-off the field.
“If you see the teaser, you will realize that all the important issues have been covered. All three issues that are attached to my life. I hope after he (Hashmi) does the film people will call him Azhar,” he said, standing in front of a life-size poster of his film that’ll be called Azhar, and is scheduled to release in May 2016.
Before the glitz and glamour of the T20 explosion, and even before the colossus that was Sachin Tendulkar arrived on the scene, it was Azharuddin who was the poster-boy of Indian cricket.
Mainly because he was unique. His batting was nonchalant, oozing with panache and zest. Not surprisingly, trying to bat like him is a task that Hashmi hasn’t found very endearing.
“He (Azhar) had an unconventional batting style. I was an average cricketer with no foot-work. His wrists are like rubber. The first time I tried to play a shot to the on-side I simply couldn’t. I have been practicing it for the past three months, facing 50 overs in a day in the nets. We have to get it right before the shooting starts,” the actor explained.
“The leg glance is one shot I have practiced a lot. I couldn’t master it because I do a lot of weight training. So now I have stopped my weight-training and am focusing on doing yoga. It has to look like Azhar is playing the shot in the movie,” he added.
Off the field, Azharuddin was also known for his love for wrist-watches. At the same time, he was also equally renowned for his generosity. And the whole country watched in shock at the turn of the century as Azharuddin became the Indian face of the ugly match-fixing fiasco that came to the fore in 2000.
With time, he has moved on with his life. The ban was lifted in 2012, and he has also served as a Member of Parliament. But Azharuddin admitted that that untoward phase of his life was a crucial element of the film as it was what changed his life forever.
“I don’t have many fans left,” Azhar pointed out when a journalist present at the event admitted to being a great fan of his. “Whenever I go out, people don’t ask me about my batting but always say Azhar sahab aap bahut ache fielder the. But I remind them that I used to bat decently too,” he said.
Azharuddin wasn’t only one of India’s most artistic batsmen. His style when not holding a bat too was singular in nature. Everything from his walk, his stance in the slips, his mannerisms and his introverted speech. Hashmi spoke about trying hard to copy each detail of his.
“We studied which foot he lands first on the ground. Many don’t know why Azhar always kept his collar up. You will find the answer in the film. We have done a lot of preparation before the shoot, including aping his walk. Even Azhar’s son complimented the walk,” revealed Hashmi.
The film is also expected to deal with Azharuddin’s marital affairs and his two marriages. But it still isn’t clear who will play Sangeeta Bijlani, a former actress who became his second wife. And when Hashmi was asked about whether he had taken tips from the once-venerated cricketer about his love life, Azharuddin was quick to butt in. He said, “Hello, hello, I am the one who took tips from Emran. He didn’t have to take any tips from me.”