The story of former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin's rise to fame as the magician with magical wrists and his fall from grace; a solid career and the dream to play 100 Test matches cut short by a life ban for alleged involvement in match-fixing and everything in between, including his love for plush lifestyle, passionate extramarital affair, and breaking his nine-year long marriage for his newfound love is nothing less than the script of a cinematic potboiler. Once Azharuddin agreed to let Ekta Kapoor's banner make a biopic based on his life, how tough could it have been for writer to make story move towards a conclusive ending. Nevertheless, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
Azhar opens with a highly creative disclaimer that dares your common sense. It says the film is not a biopic on the life of disgraced Indian captain but is only inspired from various incidences of his life and any similarity between the characters and a real person is merely coincidental. So, when the makers call their film Azhar, promote it with, "One God, two wives and match-fixing" tagline, have the real player himself promoting the film with the team, has characters named Manoj, Kapil, Navjot, Ravi, Naureen and Sangeeta and claim that all this are fragments of scriptwriter Rajat Arora's imagination, let's believe them and leave it there. This is just the beginning to a jerky, inconsistent narrative that treads on a weak storyline and seeks support in cliched dialogues throughout.
Director Tony D'Souza takes a little less than 10 minutes to tell the audience that Azhar deals only with the juiciest part of the whole 1999 match-fixing scandal and that of the tainted cricketer's love life. The film does take a quick look at little Azhar, who is born to make his 'quam' and 'desh' proud. Also, he is to fulfil his Nanaji's (grandfather's) dream of representing India in 100 Test matches. In the 15-20 minutes of Nanaji's screen presence, he repeats this enough number of times you start feeling the pressure of Azhar (Emraan Hashmi) having to perform. While Taare Zaamen Par told us how parental obsession for their child's success can kill a child's imagination, Azhar tells us that it was Nanaji's threat to break his bones if he didn't play 100 Tests for the country that kept him going. After a few cuts between present and past and shots of him defeating bowlers with the flick of his wrist on cricket grounds, you know he made it, well almost.
On his personal front, you see Azhar move up the social ladder flaunting his expensive watches and designer clothes, turning his colleagues green with envy and throwing unnecessary attitude and mouthing cliched dialogues. I really want to see a cricketer telling mediapersons at an official press conference, "Abhi baap (chairperson of the cricket council) ne bulaya hai, series bahut lambi hai, baaki jawab agli baar". At home, Azhar is this love-smitten shy husband who blushes in the presence of his heavily-rouged wife Naureen (Prachi Desai) and agrees with his father's idea of writing name on his underwear to avoid a mix-up while travelling with the team.
Just when you start believing that you have had enough of confusing shades of Azhar and feel confident of categorising him as nothing but just another case of misplaced pride, you see yet other side of the star cricketer when he is trolled by his teammates for telling them to focus on their game and not on (other) women. After all the giveaway gyaan, his lame attempts at saving the skin of his flamboyant colleague who is cheating on his wife and him eventually obsessing over Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri), with whom he had a brief moment when she cried her mascara down her cheeks and told him how he should never cheat on his wife, leaves little reason for anyone to worry about how the character (Sangeeta) is showcased in the film. Besides, ain't this a kaalpanik chitra (fictional film)? Once Azhar is at his seducing best, what follows is a kiss after a kiss, across London, with Sangeeta.
As the passionate affair between Azhar and Sangeeta unfolds, you see Emraan finally getting comfortable in the skin of his character. I would not blame Emraan, who is usually watchable, for taking too long, almost 100 minutes into the film, to get there, but at least he does. Prachi Desai as Naureen successfully manages to gather some attention but her character sketch does not give her enough scope to retain it. Nargis Fakhri, as Sangeeta, tries hard to be a fiercely independent actor she is supposed to portray, but ends up looking hysterical in most scenes. Kunal Roy Kapur as Azhar's lawyer, Reddy, leaves you feeling meh. Lara Dutta as cricket council's lawyer Meera gives you a some respite as the only actor who seems to be in control of her role as a strong and sharp lawyer, so much so that you give her the benefit of doubt when she occasionally slips into the shoes of an investigative officer.
Disclaimer or not, the film is clearly an attempt at redeeming the real player's lost honour. The film neither gives a clear picture of the infamous match-fixing scandal of 1999 that shook the country, nor does it give you a reason to believe that Azharuddin is actually a victim of a conspiracy. If at all, it makes you feel like a mockery of your sensibility while trying to tap into the controversial interest in Azharuddin's tragedy.
Director: Tony D'Souza
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Prachi Desai, Nargis Fakhri, Lara Dutta, Kunal Roy Kapur