Hansal Mehta should celebrate his birthday today. After Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar in 2000, he has been making one forgettable film after another. Forgettable might be too polite to describe them. And then he makes a comeback with such a strong film that it grabs you by the throat, makes you sit down, and wonder if he really directed those forgettable ones. A rare achievement that few filmmakers manage to do – to pull themselves out of what can be called “Bro-Filmmaking-In-Bollywood”. This is nothing less than a rebirth.
Fatema Kagalwala tells you why you should not miss this one. Mehta’s Shahid goes straight into MFC’s “Must-Watch” list.
You’ve heard about the film. You might have read the raving reviews too. Some of you have watched it. But the film gets its real glorious moment now. Theatrical release. It’s every film’s Holy Grail. It’s the child bride’s gauna. It’s a validation that matters more than awards at times. Especially for a film like Shahid. One that dares to speak about a man who dared to himself. Especially in our regressive, repressive, intolerant times.
For a long time, I kept pronouncing the title of the film as ‘Shaheed’ as in martyr. And isn’t it so true of the story and the man at the centre of it? You will find a number of reviews telling you how good the movie is. It is. Powerful and uncompromising with the truth. So I will quickly chart down the reasons of why I think (in no particular order) you must watch this movie –
Rajkumar Yadav – We all know he is a defining talent of our times. And so far we have seen him only in multi-character movies. He carries this film entirely on his shoulders and it is not an easy task to sustain. The film is a story of a hero but has an incredibly un-melodramatic and non-manipulative story-telling. It maintains a strongly unemotional, non-manipulative tone, satisfied to observe the characters fighting, losing and winning their battles. Any other actor (except Nawaz maybe) would be torn between trying to underplay the heroism and emphasise the man behind it all. Not Rajkumar. He finds it equally easy to portray vulnerability as he portrays stoicism.
Hansal Mehta – Every film-maker has his or her own journey and mostly it is tough. It rarely depends on how original or independent minded he is. It also rarely depends on his reasons for making the films he does. Hansal Mehta has had his own downward spirals but the important thing is he bounced back when most give up. With this. Fighting a hiatus and a creative bankruptcy (in his words) maybe tough, but fighting an unforgiving, unsympathetic system is much worse. Shahid was not a subject that would be easy to make in a socio-political-artistic environment like ours. But it got made and got made well. That alone deserves applause.
Realism – That elusive, enigmatic bitch that takes talent to realise onscreen. From sets to actors to screenplay to dialogues to costumes to direction to acting to everything else in between. Shahid comes so close to reality it could be yours and mine story. As a Muslim it is mine and well, it was very uncomfortable watching it play out like it did. It must have been uncomfortable for Mehta as well, to choose to include the gory, debasing insult he was subject to after he made Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar. It takes guts to make an effort to heal such wounds through artistic means.
Casting – Hansal Mehta gives complete credit for finding the right actors to his casting director Mukesh Chhabra. All that matters to us though is that Mohd Zeeshan Ayub brings alive the part of the protective, fatherly elder brother and Baljinder Kaur is so good as a Muslim woman I was shocked to learn she was a Punjabi. Prabhleen Sandhu as Mariam, Tigmanshu Dhulia as Maqbool Memon and Vipin Sharma are deft touches in a carefully created canvas.
Zero melodrama – How often do we get to watch films about heroes, about controversial material, about polarising issues, about our social reality that comes without a Dolby surround sound moralising or 3D level emotional manipulation? Shahid loses out on deifying its central character, it may have become a ‘My Name is Khan’ financially if it had done that. But the choice to go strictly biographical in structure, objective in tone and let the man’s journey speak about itself makes this film this decade’s Black Friday.
Muslim as humans – This is not a movie championing Muslim rights. Very few people understand that the right response to bigotry on the basis of racism and sexism is not deifying the identity or struggles of the ‘other’. The right response is to bring humanism into the equation to balance it. The film, just like its protagonist, with a rare perspicacity, speaks for Muslims as humans and not as a religious identity, and the distinction is very important. Especially at a time when we are simply revelling in bracketing people according to class, caste, gender, race, colour, community, geography with a ‘hey, let’s find more reasons to discriminate’ glee. If the victimised community was Hindu, Sikh or Christian, the film’s viewpoint would have been the same. In our times of muddled philosophies, faux intellectualism and confused, twitterisque moralising, walking this fine line perfectly is refreshing and heartening.
Shahid Azmi – A victim, a trainee terrorist, an imprisoned accused, a lawyer and a crusader of human rights of the wrongly accused. He finished his college degree while in jail awaiting release and in career spanning seven years e had a remarkable 17 acquittals. It is a sign of our times that his end came the way it did. It is also a sign of our times that someone thought his story important enough to be told despite the evident dangers. There is hope.
We keep screaming, we need more movies like these. And now we have one. Go watch.