I have been hearing about “Shahid” for nearly a year now until I finally saw it on Thursday in a private screening in Chennai. It’s not an exceptional film but it’s definitely exceptionally well made and narrated with moving sincerity and conviction. Even though Bollywood is still producing senseless commercial entertainers week after week, it’s nice to know that even inspiring films like “Madras Cafe”, “The Lunchbox” to name a few, have released and been widely appreciated. It’s the audacity of director Hansal Mehta that needs to be lauded for not hesitating to make the touching and eye-opening “Shahid”, which deserves to be watched.
The film tracks the story of slain human activist and criminal lawyer Shahid Azmi, who belonged to an ordinary Muslim family and decided to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves by fighting for justice.
Having witnessed some barbaric acts during a local communal riot in 1993, young Shahid Azmi enrolls into a terrorist camp in POK. There, he is brainwashed that heaven holds a special place for all Jihadi warriors, and therefore, one should be proud to be one. However, Azmi doesn’t believe in the ideologies of the group or its leader and hence runs away back home.
Few days later, he is picked up by the cops in connection with a case. Shahid spends the next six years in prison, where he learns life’s important lessons. After release, inspired by the words of a fellow inmate: if you want the change the system, be the change, Shahid takes up law practice and becomes a champion at it.
While fighting for justice for those who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they never committed, Shahid earns the wrath of local terrorists trying to free his client, who has been arrested on the basis of suspicion in connection with 26/11 attacks and has been rotting in prison for a long time.
It’s one of the few stories that deserve to be told to as many as possible. The film at the very beginning highlights that it’s a mix of facts and fiction, but it’s difficult to differentiate as the story is so captivating. You want to believe all of it is real because it makes you feel so, especially the unfolding of the court room drama, which is partly funny and mostly stimulating. I haven’t seen a better performed and directed court room episodes in Indian cinema, not as much as I remember.
“Shahid” belongs to Raj Kumar, who makes acting look so easy with his effortless but stirring portrayal of the titular character. You can feel the helplessness, fear, angst and ambition of Shahid through the eyes of Raj Kumar, who makes you root for the actor in him. After Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, it ought to be this 29-year old we all need to watch out. Let’s just hope our filmmakers make the best use of his talent, but not sabotage it in meaningless Bollywood roles.
The supporting cast, the finest I have seen on screen in the recent past, also deserves equal credit for their performances. Kay Kay, Dhulia and Vipin Sharma are a delight to watch in their respective small but very well performed roles, while Mohd. Zeeshan Ayub and Prabhleen are equally fitting in their roles.
This film has its share of flaws such as glaring technical and production-related problems. Its running time is also a concern as the initial set up of the film is very slow and it’s not until the interval, the tension kicks in. But, for the passion with which it narrates an inspiring story, we need to embrace it.
“Shahid” is a terrific watch. It puts you in a witness stand, confronts you with several questions and lets you find your own answers through its story.
Director: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Raj Kumar Yadav, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Kay Kay Menon, Prabal Panjabi, Prabhleen Sandhu and Vipin Sharma