Films cannot change the world,they can only provoke people to think, says Hansal Mehta,director of Shahid,a biopic based on the life of slain human rights activist Shahid Azmi. Mehta and actor Raj Kumar Yadav,who plays the lead role in the film,were present at the Screen Preview held at Express Towers,Nariman Point on Wednesday.
The film explores Shahids journey from his days in the terrorist camps of Kashmir as a misguided youngster and being wrongly framed and imprisoned under the anti-terrorism law to becoming a lawyer. Its the story of a common man who comes to terms with inequality and prejudice after the Mumbai 1993 blasts.
Ive always said that I was born in Bombay and now I live in Mumbai. They are two different cities, says Mehta,talking about how the citys psyche has been affected by communal riots in the past few years. Mehta found inspiration in Azmis life,his struggle and death at the age of 32.
The film also discovers a side of Mumbai that has never seen before. We shot most of the film on real locations such as Pydhonie,Kurla and Govandi. Only the courtroom scenes were shot on sets, says Mehta,who would visit courts in Mumbai to ensure minute details are incorporated into the scenes. For Shahids character,Yadav spent hours inside courtrooms listening to lawyers arguing cases,he even met Azmis family. I wanted to understand how his mind worked because physical attributes can be taken care of but mannerisms are tough, says Yadav,who studied Islam and even read the Quran to prepare for this role. Known for his roles in Dibakar Banerjees Love,Sex aur Dhoka and more recently Abhishek Kapoors Kai Po Che!,Yadav was able to become one with Azmis character,a trait that made Mehta pick him since he wanted the audience to remember Shahid and not the actor essaying his role.
After The Lunchbox,it is certain that films that stroke the audiences sensibilities in the most unassuming manner are able to pull in crowds too. I come from a background where we recover money from conventional sources such as a theatrical release. Thats why I make films that dont talk down to the audience, says Mehta.
Since its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival,Shahid has travelled to many festivals including the Mumbai Film Festival,the New York Indian Film Festival and the Indian Film Festival Stuttgart,among others. This film was made by a bunch of friends. The producer is my friend and now Raj Kumar Yadav is a friend too. It seems like they were on a mission to review my career, says Mehta,who returns after a hiatus of more than four years. His last film,Woodstock Villa (2008) starred Sikandar Kher,Neha Oberoi and Arbaaz Khan in lead roles. Produced by Anurag Kashyap,Shahid will be distributed by UTV Motion Pictures and is set to release on October 18.