The biopic’s tagline is queerly fitting for both the subject of the film as well as the actor playing him: in Azhar, Emraan Hashmi – the controversial Indian film actor who is both hated and loved across the globe – plays Mohammad Azharuddin, the Indian cricket team’s most controversial captain to date. One would imagine that for an actor like Emraan Hashmi, who divides the opinion of Bollywood movie lovers just as much as Mohammad Azharuddin divides the opinion of cricket lovers, it would have been somewhat easy to replicate a man who shares a reputation similar to his in real life. But things are definitely not always as they seem.
Directed by Tony D’Souza and produced by Shobha and Ekta Kapoor, Azhar stars – alongside Emraan Hashmi – Prachi Desai as Mohammad Azharuddin’s first wife Naureen, Nargis Fakhri as his second wife, the actress Sangeeta Bijlani, and Lara Dutta as his prosecutor Meera. As is obvious, the film does not have any megastars in its line-up whose name could have drawn the crowds in and made it a box office hit – so it had to carry itself forward on merit. How did it fare on that front? Let us see.
It seemed as if Emraan Hashmi was playing himself, albeit in a cricketer’s kit
First things first – Emraan Hashmi, the star of the film, gives a lukewarm performance, with a few moments here and there, which gives the movie its first setback. One would have thought that playing a real life person who himself has been captured on camera so many times would be easier for any actor compared to playing a fictional character but, in Emraan Hashmi’s case, that doesn’t quite seem to be true. Although the actor has done well to impersonate the cricketer’s mannerisms and batting style on the field, his dialogue delivery was nowhere nearly similar to that of Mohammad Azharuddin. The awkwardness and shyness in the ex-cricketer’s speech came only with the help of the script and had very little, if any, contribution from the actor playing him. More often than not it seemed as if Emraan Hashmi was playing himself, albeit in a cricketer’s kit, delivering nearly every line as he delivers them in a vast majority of his movies. While this flaw is more or less hidden when playing a fictional character, it glares in the viewer’s face when Hashmi is playing a real life character since the viewer has an actual person to compare his speech to. Even though this is not his first time playing a real life person on screen, the actor – notoriously known as the “Serial Kisser” – evidently is better off sticking to what he does best: playing fictional, tragic romantic heroes.
With the lead actor not really pulling off a great performance, it came down to the supporting cast to keep Azhar afloat, a job that Prachi Desai contributed her fair share to. Desai was very convincing as the docile and domesticated Naureen, Mohammad Azharuddin’s first wife. Even though – or, perhaps, because – the viewer does not really know what the real Naureen is like, Desai’s performance does well to present a character that has remained shrouded in mystery despite all the controversies she was a part of.
Other than Desai, both the lawyers, Reddy – played by the third Roy Kapur brother, Kunaal Roy Kapur – and Meera, played by Lara Dutta – give passable performances, even if it wasn’t really due to their acting prowess. Lara Dutta might consider doing the small-time roles she has resorted to post marriage a step down from her days as a heroine, but the supporting roles seem to be more suited to her thus far limited acting prowess. In Azhar, too, she manages to impress as the hard-hitting prosecutor, Meera, doing (if not overdoing) her bit to add spice to the courtroom scenes. Kunaal Roy Kapur as Reddy, the defence lawyer, resumes his suffocated comic act that he has previously dished out in Delhi Belly (2011), and, (very) luckily for the filmmakers of Azhar, his brand of congested comedy seems to work well into the film.
Prachi Desai was convincing as the domesticated Naureen, Azharuddin’s first wife
Lastly, Nargis Fakhri also dishes out a repeat of (almost) every performance she has made till date, playing the pretty girl and doing a dance number. As always, the eye candy works for her since she looks as good as ever in Azhar, and the dance number – a re-enactment of Tridev’s “Oye Oye”, which does much disfavour to Madhuri Dixit and Sonam Rai’s performance in the original – was the only memorable song in the film. That, for someone like Nargis Fakhri, is a job well done.
This brings us to the soundtrack. On this front, Azhar is a big step backwards for Emraan Hashmi, who is renowned for starring in popular songs, and doing a good job of it. In Azhar, however, he fails to present any memorable numbers, through no fault of his own. As stated previously, “Oye Oye” was the only memorable song of the film, and it was, of course, a remix of the 1989 original, so the music department doesn’t really deserve much credit for it.
Lastly, and perhaps most disappointingly, come the direction and editing of the film, both of which were rather dismal. Despite having its brief moments, the film in most part was very choppy, jumping from scene to scene instead of flowing smoothly. The repeated flashbacks also did not work for the film at all, adding more confusion than the desired result, suspense. If the film had just moved in a chronological flow, it would, in my opinion, have been much better.
Despite having so many negatives, a huge thumbs-up goes to the entire production team and cast for actually making a film on a topic that is so controversial for many people in India. Sony Pictures Networks and Shobha and Ekta Kapoor deserve much applause for taking the initiative, and the acting team deserves a pat on the back for partaking in the project, especially Emraan Hashmi, who reportedly dedicated an entire year to his performance in Azhar. It is a pity that his dedication could not have a more impressive result, but his efforts win him admiration from at least one reviewer.