Balaji Motion Pictures Ltd. and Sony Pictures Network’s Azhar (UA) is based on the life story of Indian test cricketer Mohd. Azharuddin (Emraan Hashmi). It traces his professional as well as personal life including his marriage to Naureen (Prachi Desai) and then to Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri).

The film begins with Azhar hitting a century in his 99th Test match. He is now short of only one match to complete his late maternal grandfather’s (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) dream. Right from the time Azhar was born, his grandfather used to tell everyone that Azhar would go on to play 100 matches for India.

Soon after his fabulous performance in his 99th Test match, Azhar is accused of match-fixing due to a sting operation carried out by one of his team members, cricketer Manoj Shinde (Karan Sharma). Azhar tries to convince the cricket board that he doesn’t even know M.K. Sharma (Rajesh Sharma), the bookie who is supposed to have given him money for losing the match, but the board suspends him from playing cricket for life.

Azhar decides to fight it out in court to get back his lost reputation. Rather than appointing the best lawyer, he goes to his close lawyer-friend, Reddy (Kunaal Roy Kapur), because he wants only that lawyer to plead his case, who is convinced that he is innocent. At first reluctant, Reddy soon relents.

But the court battle that is to unfold is not easy because no team member is willing to stand by Azhar in court, not even cricketer Kapil (Varun Badola) who had till then been a staunch Azhar supporter. On his part, Azhar, who had by then divorced first wife Naureen and was now married to film star Sangeeta, refuses to bring the ladies to court to testify in his favour even though his lawyer is keen to have them in the witness box.

The prosecution lawyer is the renowned Meera (Lara Dutta) who is known for her genius. As the arguments begin in court, the film goes into flashbacks about the cricket matches Azhar had played, about his meeting with bookie M.K. Sharma, arranged by middleman Ajay Patil (Jameel Khan), about his childhood, about his marriage with Naureen, about him falling head over heels in love with Sangeeta, about his divorce from Naureen, and about the sting operation which nailed him.

Even as it appears that Azhar is fighting a losing battle, his lawyer comes up with a law point and proves his innocence in court. The flashback also shows that although Azhar had accepted the bribe money from bookie M.K. Sharma, he had had a change of heart and had played a fabulous inning to actually win the match which he had agreed to lose.

Based on the point of law alone, the court declares Azhar not guilty and the cricketing legend is, therefore, able to clear his name and reputation.

Rajat Aroraa has penned a story which is mostly based on incidents in the cricketer’s real life. Since Azhar’s life has been both, clourful and eventful, the story has a lot of twists and turns, highs and lows, making it inherently interesting, engaging and even intriguing. But Rajat Aroraa’s screenplay is good in parts only. While the early part of the drama is interesting, the excitement level drops intermittently after that. The courtroom drama is exciting at times but slack at other times. Since it is shown quite early on that Azhar did accept the bribe money, the audience’s heart doesn’t go out to him cent per cent. It is because of this ‘fault’ (of showing him quite early on, accepting the bribe money) that the rest of the human drama does not have the desired emotional impact. Even otherwise, Rajat Aroraa’s screenplay does not milk the emotional side of the human drama half as much as it should have. Consequently, the emotional high which the audience should have experienced when the court upholds Azhar’s innocence, does not happen. With a cricketing hero’s entire career being at stake, the viewer should’ve cried tears of joy when he is pronounced ‘not guilty’ by court but that just doesn’t happen. One reason for this is that the audience had not been overtly rooting for Azhar through the courtroom drama – maybe because he had, in fact, accepted the bribe money. Another reason is also that in court, Azhar’s lawyer actually stresses on a point of law rather than the cricketer’s actions to have Azhar proven innocent. No doubt, Azhar is shown to have played a fabulous game and single-handedly led India to victory in the match he had agreed to lose, but had that been the base of lawyer Reddy’s arguments in court, the drama would’ve been far more exhilarating. In the film, the fact that Azhar made up for his soul-selling act by winning the match is not put across to the court which pronounces him innocent without taking his actions into consideration. Also, Azhar admitting that he had accepted the bribe money with the sole aim that the bookie would not go to bribe another cricketer looks like a lame excuse to cover up his criminal action. For, what was the guarantee that the bookie would not, in fact, approach another cricketer to bribe him, after bribing Azhar? It is points like the above which keep the viewer’s heart from beating for Azhar. Even otherwise, Azhar had never been a role model in his time, for the audience to solidly favour him or a film based on his life.

Further, the under-20 or even under-25 audience may not relate to the drama because they may not have seen the real-life Mohd. Azharuddin play cricket. Besides, let’s face it, Azhar is not as big a legend as, say, Sachin and also not as much in news today as a contemporary player. So, a section of the youth audience would be lost to the film.

Having said that, it must be added that the generation which has seen Azhar play for India, especially lovers of cricket, would like the drama. Even otherwise, the screenplay does have some high points which keep the audience hooked on to the unfolding drama despite some troughs in it.

Rajat Aroraa’s dialogues are very good at places. But there should’ve been more dialogues of the clap-worthy kind and many of the patriotic kind.

Emraan Hashmi does an extremely fine job, underplaying his character beautifully. He has worked hard on getting the mannerisms of the cricketer right. In particular, he has very effectively aped Azhar’s style of talking, walking and shaking his head. Prachi Desai leaves a mark in the emotional scenes. Nargis Fakhri looks glamorous in the role of film star Sangeeta. Her acting is barely fair. Lara Dutta excels as prosecution lawyer Meera. Kunaal Roy Kapur is first-rate as Azhar’s lawyer, Reddy. Karan Sharma is good in the role of cricketer Manoj Shinde. Rajesh Sharma has his moments as bookie M.K. Sharma. Jameel Khan is good in the role of middleman Ajay Patil. Ashok Mandana makes his presence amply felt as the judge. Shernaz Patel (as Azhar’s mother) and Virendra Saxena (as Azhar’s father) are natural. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is endearing as Azhar’s maternal grandfather. Varun Badola is quite good in a brief role as cricketer Kapil. Gautam Gulati (as cricketer Ravi), Ashish Pathode (as cricketer Ajay Kapur), Manjot Singh (as cricketer Navjot Singh), Rajit Kapur and Shweta Kawaatra (as a journalist) lend good support.

Anthony D’Souza’s direction is quite good. He has been able to create the desired excitement in the cricket matches but he has not succeeded in bringing tears to the viewers’ eyes in the human drama. And that’s a big minus point. Music (Pritam and Amaal Malik) is a major plus point. ‘Itni si baat’ and ‘Bol do’ are hit songs. Lyrics (Kumaar, Rashmi Virag and Manoj Yadav) are very meaningful. Sandeep Shirodkar’s background music is nice. Rakesh Singh’s camerawork is of a good standard. Nimish Kotwal’s production designing and Riyaz Shaikh’s art direction are excellent. The different time periods and the ambience have been effectively recreated. Tushar Shivan’s editing is suitably sharp.

On the whole, Azhar is an engaging film but not consistently so. It has drama and thrill but lacks the emotional high of a human drama. It will, therefore, not be able to score enough at the box-office to break even.

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