If you go by the initial disclaimers ( yes, there are several, filling the entire screen) you will know that what you are about to watch is a ‘kaalpanik chitra’ (imaginary film) which is based on the ‘vibhinna ghatnaon’ (many episodes) of the life of a disgraced captain of the Indian cricket team; that any resemblance to any real event is ‘matra ek sanyog’ (a mere coincidence), and that it doesn’t intend to ‘hurt’ any ‘sanstha’ (organization) or ‘corporate’.
Why bother calling it ‘Azhar’ then? Why not Sachin or Ajay or Manoj or Ravi, or any of the other ‘imaginary’ players of the Indian cricket team, who were compatriots of the cricketer who faced a `life-time ban’ on the charges of match-fixing?
(Also read: ‘Azhar’ bats for Azhar — and leaves everyone stumped)
Using only first names as a dissembling tactic while referring to actual events and dates and places and times, is silly enough. Such is the extent of craven-ness on display that one of the most gripping cricketing stories of our time, featuring one of the most colourful captains of the Indian cricket team, is turned into a dull, dispirited tale.
‘Azhar’ was presumably made because it had such a controversial figure at its centre, arising out of the fixing-maches-for-money controversy itself, which had such a deep-seated impact on the game not just nationally but internationally.
(Also read: Azhar impresses viewers on Day One of release)
You can also see that it’s been made to clear the real player’s name: a court did over-turn the ban but the whole process took so long that it became besides the point. The film remains strangely ambivalent about its hero while mouthing ‘seeti-maar’ dialogue about ‘desh’ and ‘qaum’: to have made the point the way it needed to be made, the film needed to have been braver and sharper. Alas, this bio-pic has no teeth. Oops, sorry, this ain’t no bio-pic, ‘coz, look momma, it names no names.
Not only is there a parade of Kapils and Sachins (no, gasp, Dev or Tendulkar), the eponymous hero is not, double gasp, Mohammad Azharduddin but `Azhar Mohd’ who just happens to be a Hyderabad lad, whose affections for a Bollywood starlet lead him to abandon his first wife, and whose accidental dealings with a bookie leads him into abyss.
Emraan Hashmi, usually so watchable, is buried under the inept script, which hints at shadowy dons and the guilty parties in a fuzzy, indistinct manner. But Hashmi is earnest, and the only saving grace here. Prachi Desai is rouged and demure and distressed, Nargis Fakhri as Sangeeta ( not, never, Bijlani) is pouty, Lara Dutta as the lawyer for the cricket council ( not, never, BCCI), is svelte but miscast, and Roy Kapur struggles with a bad wig and exaggerated accent, and Sharma as the bookie who makes the advances, is perenially oily.
This could have been a great cautionary tale about a great sport at a time when it was just becoming the arena it has grown into—full of big money and glamour, bigger endorsements and never-ending temptations : it is, instead, an inept ‘tamasha’, not very different from the stuff Bollywood churns out, the cricket just the superstructure for tired song-and-dance and melodrama, in living rooms and court-rooms.
Nope, this ‘Azhar’ doesn’t hit it out of the stadium.
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Prachi Desai, Nargis Fakhri, Lara Dutta, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Rajesh Sharma
Director : Tony D’Souza
One and a half stars.