Shubha Shetty Saha
Hansal Mehta, who earlier gave us the powerful Shahid on the life of activist lawyer Shahid Azim, is becoming a regular in the biopic genre. This time the subject of his biopic is tricky as he attempts to narrate the journey of an Islamist Militant Ahmed Omar Sheikh, who created havoc in the name of bringing justice to his fellow Muslims around the world. Interestingly Shaid has had Shaikh in one scene where he’s trying to get Azmi waylaid. Shaikh has many allegations against him, that include kidnapping four foreigners in Delhi, murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl and also being the mastermind behind the 9/11. Shaikh is currently in a jail in Pakistan.
Mehta, who’s also written the story along with Mukul Dev, disappoints with the parts that he’s chosen to pick from the terrorist’s life and the parts that he’s omitted. The psyche of a man from an evidently wealthy home brought up in UK and a student of London School of Economics becoming a religious fanatic and gradually giving it all up to turn into a dreaded terrorist could have made a really interesting study. Instead, Mehta chooses to tiptoe around his life, just chronicling a few obvious things that he did (google-able information) and not really getting into his fascinating personality.
Not much of his background or family is revealed, except for the presence of a reluctant father (Keval Arora). No mention of what experiences influenced him while growing up that he needs to take up the cudgels for his Muslim brothers is unexplored.
Mehta highlights the kidnapping of three British men and one American woman in Delhi by Shaikh and subsequently his arrest and jail term in Ghaziabad. A passing reference is made to how he was one of the terrorists being freed in exchange for hostages held in the hijacked Indian Airlines flight in 1999.
While Mehta is free to choose how impassionately and without judgement he presents the story of a terrorist, it doesn’t really come across as a balanced approach.
The cinematography by Anuj Prakash Dhwan stands out as he presents the direct contrast between the bylanes of Delhi and parts of Pakistan in direct contrast to the sanitised environment in UK that Shaikh is brought up in.
Talented actor Rajkummar Rao justifiably plays the central character. He’s powerful as usual but is handicapped by the underwritten character and text bookish dialogues. Rao has tried to adopt British accent but has fails rather miserably. In fact, in some scenes, he slips back to his good ol’ Indian accent and nobody seems to be keeping a check on that. None of the other actors playing fringe characters impress.
Watch it if you really must. Or catch the film-maker’s far better work, Shahid, once again.
Director: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, keval Arora, Rajesh Tailang, Rupinder Nagra