Hansal Mehta`s `Shahid` a gritty expose of deep-rooted prejudices

Toronto: Hansal Mehta`s `Shahid`, showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a powerful movie based on the true story of slain human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi and a must-watch for every Indian.

Azmi, whose family was terrorized by murderous Hindu mobs during the Mumbai riots in 1993, was jailed for years on anti-terrorism charges that were later dropped.

He spent his prison time studying law and later devoted his career as a lawyer fighting cases for the poor and innocent, often Muslims, jailed or arrested on trumped up charges of being terrorists.

He was gunned down while defending Fahim Ansari, accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, in 2010, vindicated by his acquittal by the Supreme Court last month, and became an unlikely martyr.

Mehta`s film his ninth, following `Jayate` and `Woodstock Villa` - is much more than a compelling biopic. It is an explosive expose of the deep-rooted, pervasive anti-Muslim prejudices of the Indian state ? the police, the judiciary, the government and the people ? that conspire to have scores of innocents labeled as terrorists and languishing in jails without charges being proven.

Part thriller, part courtroom drama, part biopic, it is a gritty, inspirational portrayal of a pint-sized idealist who dies for the cause. Kudos to Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap and Sunil Bohra for producing this gutsy little dynamo.

Raj Kumar Yadav (`Love, Sex and Dhokha`) is an absolute revelation, his body radiating a coiled, nervous energy in his crusade to see justice done. Full marks for a nuanced screenplay by Sameer Gautam Singh, Apurva Asrani and Mehta, whose raw power comes from understatement.

The cinematography keeps close to the action and narrow bylanes. It is a tautly told story, edited by Apurva. The doomed romance crackles with candour. Prabhleen Sandhu, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Kay Kay Menon shine in brief roles.

Both Mira Nair`s `The Reluctant Fundamentalist` and `Shahid` underline the same point: that our generic prejudices against Muslims can only foment injustice and terror.

Nair`s film has a larger canvas, with stars, and was shot on several continents. The quieter `Shahid`, by hitting closer home, rips our hypocrisies to deliver a memorable sock in the solar plexus.


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