Azhar—the Review


There is a scene in Azhar where Azhar has gone to watch a film with Naureen, his first wife. As Nargis Fakhri playing Sangeeta comes onto screen, her lips swollen like she walked into an Ambrose bouncer, it is Naureen who almost gets aroused, commenting to Azhar “kya khoobsoorat aankhein hai uski” and for those who have grown up in Bollywood,  we know that”aankhein”is often an euphemism for some other components of a woman’s body. While wife getting turned on by another woman is a long-standing fantasy among Indian men, and by this time you should be thinking of Khulbhushan Kharbanda’s spontaneous eruption in front of bottles of “Crush”  after stumbling upon his wife Shabana Azmi writing sensuously with Nandita Das in Fire, Azhar is immensely distraught by the licentiousness of the dance, and looks uncomfortably from side to side, like he did when the ball was bouncing near his head on fast tracks.

Yes that’s how innocent and honorable Azhar is, in his approved eponymous hagiography. Why did he take money from bookies? So that he bankrupts them, and prevents them from offering the same money to other players. Yes. You read that right. That’s the final reveal. Why was his career finished? Because some player suspiciously called “Manoj”, himself suspect in his loyalties, resented Azhar being the boss, and carried a grudge of having been seen nude in the dressing room. Why the extramarital affair? Because the first wife was unavailable, and how do we know that? Azhar sits down to a dinner with Naureen, asks her about the biriyani, she says “it’s good”, and Azhar asks “What about it is good? The rice? The spices? The flavor?” and Naureen says “It’s all good”, and Azhar loses his cool because no husband likes a wife who can’t deconstruct biriyani and the next thing you know he is in the arms of his mistress. Not convinced that he is an amazing person? Here is more. Azhar wants to tell his wife the marriage is over, but there are people at the house, so what can the poor man do except announce it on TV, leaving his wife not just heartbroken but also embarrassed?

Because you see Azhar did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing. Everyone around him was bad, a resentful “Manoj”, a philandering “Ravi”, a difficult “Navjot”. And if throwing mud at everyone else in order to make him look good isn’t bad enough, there are bare-faced lies. Matches Azhar was accused of having fixed, are mixed with other matches, like the one in Bangalore where he got a bad decision, so that unless you lived through the Azhar era or read Cricinfo while others go to Pornhub, you would not realize that the game that started was not the one that finished.

But all this would be forgiven, if Azhar worked as a film. It does not. Amateurish and disjointed, with acting quality and direction straight out of a bad 90s movie, the kind where every extra in a room says “Dekho dekho woh Azhar” all together, and where comedy is some guy by the name of Reddy speaking “South Indian” Hindi, Azhar makes Kanti Shah look like Kurusawa. Emran Hashmi, who has three stock facial expressions “I am going to kiss you”, “I miss kissing you”, and “I have kissed someone else”, tried to go method by studying Azhar’s mannerisms. But what comes out is a parody. Besides the fact that Hashmi’s tongue is about as flexible as Azhar’s wrists, and both find gaps which others can’t reach, the decision to cast him is puzzling, though I doubt if even Daniel Day Lewis would be able to rise above the material. Prachi Desai looks much more convincing as Naureen, and is the most competent actor in the whole film, Sangeeta Bijlani should have sued the producers just because they got Nargis Fakhri to play her. Lara Datta, who is not playing Brian Lara but the prosecuting lawyer, who gets notes passed to her by the man she is prosecuting, hinting at a darker desire on the part of Azhar to crack three successive centuries with ladies too, looks bored throughout. Khulbhushan Kharbandha (yes of Fire fame) says some supposedly profound words in a Hyderabadi accent, of the Rajesh Khanna “Gaa beta gaa” variety in Disco Dancer, but does not make it past the first few reels.

The tragedy here is that this film could have been so much more. Azharuddin is India’s most controversial sports figure, a man of little privilege by birth, who broke through to the top purely on the dint of freakish talent only to fall as high as he rose, a man whose life has so much drama on and off the field, that it should not have been difficult to make a passably interesting film about him. Yet the director fails spectacularly, and that takes a Dodda Ganesh level of ability.

I wish I had not seen this film. And I say this, not as a purveyor of bad Bollywood, but as a fan of the man himself. Growing up, my favorite cricketer was Azhar. Not Sachin. Not Dada. Azhar. I was there, at the Eden, for his third century, and also when he carved England to all parts of the field, his bat twirling like a sword as it came down in a perfect arc, catching the light of a setting sun and of batsmanship of the kind that we will never seen again, the ball whizzing along the green grass in a blur of crimson, the English cricketers standing tiredly, as much audience as the eighty thousand else.

That is how I want to remember him.

Not as the man he became.

And definitely, not the man he wants us to believe he was.

17 thoughts on “Azhar—the Review

  1. First Comment!

    Back here after long time, good going bro!

  2. “his wife Shabana Azmi writing sensuously with Nandita Das”

    — I haven’t seen the film, and all sorts of things are possible I suppose, but possibly “writhing” was meant? 🙂

    Nice review.

  3. Iphone 7 Plus!

    But seriously, nice review. For the last few months since the movie was announced, I have noticed a certain view point that Azhar got slowly and gradually caught in the web of the bookies which, after a certain time, got too complicated for him to come out of. Wow, I thought!

  4. I saw the first 10-15 mins and then skipped the movie and googled Azhar controversy again, just to ensure that I don’t forget what happened.
    I wasn’t much of a fan of his, as I was of Sachin back then. But that collar-up, hands wide, styled Azhar, had become predictable to me way before the controversy erupted. His dismissals- caught in the slip region, his, ‘boys played well’ statements all of those meant I was waiting for him to retire. I enjoyed Jadeja’s chewing gum style relaxed approach more.
    But that controversy made me suspect everything that I had seen on the ground until then.

    “Yes. You read that right. That’s the final reveal” What? hahahaha! Really?

    I shall not waste time watching the movie then 🙂 Thank You!

    1. I respect your opinion but apart from may be VVS, no one comes close to Azhar in style & he is indeed a magician with the wand. The South Africans when they first came to India, their commentators were in awe of his batting skills.

      I agree with the bong, wish a better film maker had taken this film on a non fictional note with a better starcast..

  5. Makes Kantishah look like Kurusawa …haha…..You getting back in form Mr Bong after a brief dry spell…Please post more often.

  6. This is epic ” Azhar makes Kanti Shah look like Kurusawa”

  7. Agree completely about the movie distorting reality and paltering with facts to portray azhar as an innocent victim of circumstances. The sad part is that people from our generation will remember azhar’s match fixing (and the lackadaisical and irresponsible attitude when he was dropped as captain) but todays generation who relies on movies to understand history (another case is the portrayal of milkha singh losing the medal because he looked back during the race) will think of this movie’s story as the truth.

  8. I never liked the man anyway. I will never forget March 13, 1996.

  9. Good stuff again GB. Azhar’s batting was possibly only second to that of Lara in terms of flow and style…Bevan and Mark Waugh i remember had a similar flourish and elegance about their game followed by Aravinda Dsilva, Sourav Ganguly, Sehwag…for the record books it could be Sachin who won us a few matches and for the rest of his career amassed records for his own self but for general public like us entertainment meant these gentlemen… they not just played to win matches but their batting was meant to please eyes. Sad that Azhar fell from that league of guys who everyone loved irrespective of nationality to this thug who made his millions by match fixing.

    I feel the same when you say that we were all his fans but then he let everyone down for some stupid selfish reason just like hansie cronje did too.

  10. lara and prachi are two talented actresses ! Imran looks like better version of KKR …..thank god he did not romance lara……..

  11. I have always wondered why bangalore are so parochial, to the extent that they will defend and glorify the selfish gangugly simply because he was a bangalit and deride players like Tendulkar as selfish or driving as someone who back stabbed gangly. The facts are otherwise. It was gangly who always slowed down the teams scoring to score his 50 or 100. It was gangly who refused to step down in spite of 3 years of continued non performance (and was still retained in the team as an all rounder – with the blessings of the calcutta based dalmia). It was the bangalore crowd at Eden gardens who supported south Africa and booed India only because gangly had been dropped. It is sad that you try to pattern with facts and mislead people.

    1. Auto correct gone horribly wrong here…

  12. Haven’t seen the movie, but if a flawed character like Azhar is made into a paragon of virtue by Bollywood, what will they do to someone like Dhoni, who is already considered a decent character by the media and fans?
    On a related note, when are we going to see a movie about Banglar Gourab, Sourav Ganguly? Someone like a Srijit Mukherji can direct the movie, Prosenjit can play the lead, and you yourself can take the helm in the writing department. After all, if Azzu Bhai had Bijli, Saurav had Nagma. If Azhar had Mukesh Gupta to plague him, Ganguly had Chappell. Both danced to the short ball, and if Azhar revealed his heart for his lady on the TV, Ganguly revealed his chest and swung his shirt on television.
    The screenplay practically writes itself. After plenty of barsaat one night, our hero meets a “dusky eyed” Nagma (fetchingly played by Kareena Kapoor) at the Golconda fort in the present, and the story flashes back to Eden Gardens 2001, as Mcgrath taunts Ganguly on the field about his “friend”, and the steely eyed hero replies “Mere ragon mein Bangal ka khoon daudta hai” to much whistling and applause. Great strife ensues for our man, but he redeems himself by winning the series. A couple of song and dance sequences later (choreographed at Minto Park), Ganguly is dropped, only to make a Cinderella comeback in the team, with jhankar beats in the background. The climax is the showdown between Shastri and Ganguly at the coach selection meeting, where Shastri says, via Skype, “Mere paas experience hai, naam hai, sab kuch hai. Tere paas kya hai?”, and Ganguly adjusts his glasses, clears his throat and replies in a close-up “Mere paas Ma(nohar) hai”.

    It’ll be a superhit, for sure, released, like Kabali, in several dubbed versions across the country.

  13. Hey the movie was not reviewing but glad you said you liked Azhar more than Sachin or Dada. I remember the second knock you mentioned 184 or something and remember David Gower’s immortal comments, usually left handers are more attractive than right handers but one of the exceptions is Mohammed Azharuddin.

    The movie could have been so much more and its sad that a more competent entity than Balaji Tele films should have endeavored to make this movie with some bold facts instead of portraying eveyrone as Black and Azhar as Rin Supreme white.

    An opportunity missed. I hope a better film maker takes up this subject and show them how it is done.

  14. Azhar was my favourite. Not the man himself, but the batsman and fielder. He was the Jonty before Jonty was there. Oh, the sublime catch at gully and in the same motion, the release of the ball in the air. Then the cocky smirk while rest of the fielders converged on him.

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