“Azhar”… A weak attempt to whitewash a disgraced sporting hero

Posted on May 14, 2016


Spoilers ahead…

There’s a shot in Tony D’Souza’s Azhar guaranteed to give gooseflesh to viewers of a certain age. The film doesn’t use last names, so we’re watching “Javed” bat. He whacks a ball to the boundary and smirks that “Javed” smirk. He hoists the next ball for what looks like another encounter with the rope, when a hand shoots up and wraps its fingers around it. It’s Azhar, of course. It was always a joy to see a batsman from the other team trudge back to the pavilion, but the pleasure was multiplied a million-fold when the batsman was “Javed.” I think I am not alone in saying that cricket doesn’t hold that kind of fascination anymore. It isn’t just that we got older. It isn’t just the numerous ads – at the bottom of the screen, or waiting in the wings to take over at the first sign of a break. It isn’t even the newfangled formats. It’s the innocence that was lost after Mohammad Azharuddin was accused of… Let’s hear it from Azhar himself, who says, “Mujhpe ilzaam hai ki maine apne mulk ko bech diya.” Things were never the same again, not for him, and not for Indian cricket.

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Any film tackling the story of the cricketer – even one as timid as this one, which opens with a disclaimer as long as the Constitution of India – must field two questions. Did he do it? If so, why? (And if not, why was he framed?) But Azhar isn’t interested in getting into Azhar’s head. It just wants to get into his good books. It shows us only facts that are already public knowledge. He married one woman, fell in love with another, he was accused of match-fixing. And there’s a phenomenal invention at the end that is both insulting and infuriating. Azhar tells us that Azhar did take a gym bag stuffed with cash from a smarmy bookie (Rajesh Sharma, in great form), but only so that no other player would be tempted to take it. I didn’t mind so much the reinvention of a mild-mannered cricketer as a masala-film hero. The writer, after all, is Rajat Aroraa, who really knows how to punch up a situation with whistle-worthy oratory. (When a disgraced Azhar is reminded that he’s still rich, he replies, “Jinke paas dost kam hote, woh ameer nahin hote.”) What got me was the cheating. We’re led to think Azhar is being tempted, that this wasn’t a sport being played at Eden Gardens so much as the Garden of Eden, and then we’re told that we’re fools for even doubting him, that it wasn’t an apple but a cork ball that he hoisted for a six towards delirious crowds waving the tricolour. I’ve seen propaganda movies with more shades of grey.

Azhar tries to do too much. A part of the film wants to be a transcript of the court case that dragged on well into the Dhoni era. In true masala-film fashion, this isn’t Azhar versus the rest of India, but David versus Goliath. Azhar is the underdog, so he gets the underdog lawyer, a bumbling man we know only as Reddy (Kunaal Roy Kapur, using his natural klutziness well). And on the opposite team, we have Lara Dutta, click-clacking in high heels, dressed in expensive suits, an eyebrow perpetually raised as though she were auditioning for the lead role in The Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey: The Early Years. Another part of the film wants to chronicle Azhar’s loves, Naureen (Prachi Desai) and Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri). (The film is careful not to label Sangeeta a home-wrecker. Or maybe it does, but at least she kept saying no until she said yes.) The Azhar-Naureen scenes have an old-fashioned sweetness to them, and there’s a good moment where he tries to come clean to her about Sangeeta. She knows, but she doesn’t want to hear it from him, and she keeps making excuses that she’s busy. But the Azhar-Sangeeta scenes are dreadful. We experience a mix of “What did Azhar see in Sangeeta?” and “Whatever did Imtiaz Ali see in Nargis Fakhri?”

So we get the disgraced hero, the torn lover – what we don’t get is the cricketer. A few quick shots on the field aren’t enough (and it doesn’t help that none of the actors resemble the players). There’s a brief moment in which Azhar speaks to Naureen about a “naya ladka” named Sachin, but his insecurity is dismissed in a single line. There’s a scene where Azhar is offered the captaincy, but the transformation of this diffident man into a canny captain is abrupt. Azhar is the kind of film where the momentousness of events is conveyed not through the writing or the filmmaking but through the loud and incessant background score, which positions everything as the equivalent of three centuries in the first three tests. The man, apparently, couldn’t use the toilet without being labelled either Man of the Match or adulterer or traitor.

Emraan Hashmi struggles to get into Azhar’s skin. Part of this is surely due to the film’s inadequacies, but there are points we get the sense Hashmi seems to have stopped trying altogether. We see what he’s capable of in the scene where Sangeeta reminds Azhar, after shooting a commercial, that he’s married. The scene is set in a luridly lit back alley – the lighting hints at the thoughts inside his head. We sense the shadow of moral conflict. Almost everywhere else, Hashmi looks like he’s in a hurry to say his lines and get back home. I was shocked seeing his smug grin when his lawyer wins a point in court. I wanted to tell him this isn’t a tennis match.


  • Azhar= see here
  • Mujhpe ilzaam hai ki maine apne mulk ko bech diya.” = I’ve been accused of betraying my country.
  • Jinke paas dost kam hote, woh ameer nahin hote.” = You’re not rich if you don’t have friends.
  • “naya ladka” = new boy

Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi