Everyone that listens to UPodcast knows that my tastes veer towards massy entertainers that have had some thought put into it. I don’t need added sound effects to punctuate punch lines but I cant’ stand slow, dreary movies that only get praise from other movie directors (usually friends) or snobby critics.
So when we received the line up of films at this year’s London Indian Film Festival, I naturally try to find the ones I have some connect with, be it an actor or director whose name sounds familiar or a story that would connect with me somehow.
Shahid was high on my list of movies to watch at this year’s LIFF as it starred Raj Kumar Yadav (now shortened to just Raj Kumar as the statute of limitations have surely expired on that foot fetishist from Pakeezah) who had the stand out performance as the lecherous pervert in Love, Sex Aur Dhoka as well as the goody goody in Kai Po Che. The other vague familiarity was that the movie was directed by Hansal Mehta (Does anyone own Woodstock Villa on Dvd except me?) and appreciated his short in Sanjay Gupta produced Dus Kahaniyan starring Jimmy Shergill.
Shahid is based on the story of Muslim human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi who (SPOILERS for Real LIFE) was shot dead in his own office after trying to defend people wrongfully incarcerated under terrorism charges in India.
One of the reasons I have yet to see Bhaag Milka Bhaag is that autobiographies in my book just have the same “inspirational” story arc and a movie about an interesting person, doesn’t necessarily make an interesting movie.
Shahid doesn’t avoid all “inspirational biography” trappings but gives the audience enough in Raj Kumar lead performance (who looks a bit like Shahid Kapoor’s more talented but less buff older brother) , it’s the tight screenplay and fiery courtroom scenes. The story starts with Shahid’s murder and then in flashback mode we jump in a linear fashion through the major chapters that lead him to his end.
After seeing the slaughter first hand in the ’92 Mumbai communal riots, Shahid tries to get some sense of vindication as wayward youths do by joining an Islamic Militant group in Kashmir but very soon he finds out that it’s not the right place for him as he doesn’t have any interest in the physical training or the stomach for beheadings (as one would). Unfortunately, when he finds his way back home, the Bombay police pick him up and he is sentenced under TADA (now defunct anti terrorism law) and ends up serving 7 years hard time.
In jail he picks up a law degree and wants to make sure he can do all he can to help people who suffered the same faith as him when he is released.
Shahid has some excellent supporting mostly unknown actors (his older brother (who was Imran Khan’s friend in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan), the female lawyer in his final case, his prison mentor) and quite surprising cameos by Kay Kay Menon (who almost pulls a Kosmo Kramer the way he appears in the movie) and Tigmanshu Dhulia (who in my mind will always be Romance Singh thank you Qtipya’s Gangs of WasseyPur Spoof).
It was also refreshing that Shahid isn’t mythologized and is shown with real human flaws and weaknesses without resorting to clichés. He is a weak man when it comes to his small family and avoids confrontation but when it comes to the fighting for his defendants he is on fire. His passion for his cause is undeniable in the courtroom scenes, which seem to be done quite realistically, so there are no “Dhai Kilo Ka Haath” monologues that illicit wolf whistles but illustrates the frustration of bureaucracy and process very well.
The movie is shot beautifully from the small alleys to the middle classes houses and offices in Mumbai to the majestic beautiful vistas of Kashmir.
Some of the editing can be jarring because of that some of the chronology can be confusing but these are minor issues with an overall satisfying movie without screaming it’s own importance.
Shahid has been picked up by UTV Films so will be getting a wide release. And for my money it was one of the best movies at the London Indian Film Festival that I saw this year.