Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.
Directed By: Tony D’Souza
Produced By: Shobha Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor, and Sony Pictures Networks
Written by: Rajat Aroraa
Emraan Hashmi as Mohammad Azharuddin.
Lara Dutta as Meera
Prachi Desai as Naureen, the first wife of Azharuddin.
Nargis Fakhri as Sangeeta Bijlani, the second wife of Azharuddin.
Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Azhar’s Nanu.
Rajesh Sharma as M. K. Sharma
Azhar, the movie, does not claim to be a biopic.
It is a fictionalised picturisation of Mohammad Azharuddin’s life-story. Azhar was the skipper of the Indian cricket team—making his way from a middle-class home to the pinnacle of Indian sport, from simplicity and humility to the easy arrogance of Armani suits, from a reclusive , reticent person to seeking and gaining the favour of one of Bollywood’s top actresses.
The movie is an attempt to whitewash and dramatize the Hyderabadi’s part in the match-fixing scandal that rocked the cricketing world in the 2000s.
Emraan Hashmi essays the title role with aplomb and mimics the former Indian skipper’s mannerisms to a T but is unable to dominate the frame in the way you’d expect a larger-than-life Azharuddin to do.
Azhar’s teammates are reduced to caricatures jealous of his success, philanderers and simply unwilling to be embroiled in the messy match-fixing soup the protagonist finds himself in.
The famous showdown between Navjot Singh Sidhu and Azhar during in the 1996 England tour wherein the Sikh famously walked out of the side and returned home is not even alluded to in the film.
Jaywant Lele, in his autobiography, reveals the reason was that Sidhu was constantly abused by his captain.
The movie focuses on the court case filed by Azhar against the life ban imposed by the ICC and the BCCI which incidentally he won in 2012. The ban was revoked by the BCCI in 2005.
The movie fails to capture other aspects of Azhar’s life such as the tragic death of his son Ayazuddin in 2011. The separation from Sangeeta Bijlani is skipped over and there is no mention either of this third marriage to long-time friend, Shannon Marie or his rumoured affair with Jwala Gutta—which incidentally both deny vehemently.
There is also little focus on his aggressive fielding at point and the training that made him one of the most brilliant fielders of his generation.
The women protagonists have surprisingly substantial parts in the film.
Prachi Desai as Naureen is demure, sensitive and suffering. She is dignity itself while certainly not a women’s lib proponent.
Hashmi portrays Azhar as both bewildered by the turn of events and his personal turmoil yet fascinated by his new love interest, Sangeeta Bijlani.
Bijli catches Azhar on the rebound from her failed relationship with Salman Khan, leader of the brat pack of Bollywood. Azhar’s dedication of his match-winning knock to his new love interest at a man-of-the-match ceremony—signalling the end of his first marriage—is crass and cowardly.
Nargis Fakhri as Sangeeta is disappointing, unable to capture her glamour or her chutzpah at snaring a married cricketer under the noses of his unsuspecting spouse and the media. She comes across as a weak-willed woman who succumbs easily to the advances of a married man. The melodramatic scenes evoke very little emotion. Fakhri is no thespian. Period.
Bollywood and cricket can never be divorced. Dalliances happen all the time but seldom end well.
Lara Dutta as Meera, the defending counsel, has the most substantial role after Hashmi in the film. She’s bold and gutsy, speaks her mind and makes no bones about turning from friend to foe, fan to hater.
Ajay Sharma, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Jadeja and Azharuddin were all banned by the BCCI—Prabhakar and Jadeja for five years.
Jadeja’s ban was lifted in 2003 and he made a return to domestic cricket but he was never the same batsman. He never played for India again. Nayan Mongia—accused by Azharuddin—-was forced to retire despite not being found guilty by the CBI.
Hansie Cronje was the most tragic victim of this match-fixing scandal dying in a plane crash.
MK Sharma (MK Gupta) is the bookie turned approver who introduces Azhar to the sordid world of match-fixing.
Azhar—in the movie—purportedly accepts a bribe but only to shield his teammates from temptation. The reasoning is so spurious that one would best walk out from the movie hall at this point.
Navneet Mundhra writing for SportsKeeda does a competent job of listing the facts and distortions in the movie.
(Mundhra’s piece refreshed my memory about the facts of the case. The match-fixing controversy was the first to hit Indian cricket and it was the reason why I stopped following Indian cricket for a while. The Indian cricket fan has never been the same—the joys of victories tinged with suspicions about losses. Tehelka made its reputation for hard-hitting journalism based on its revelations with Manoj Prabhakar’s assistance.
My memories of Azza are of a wristy batsman who burst on the scene as a bundle of talent scoring three consecutive Test centuries on debut in a home series against England after staking his claim with a series of excellent scores in domestic matches. Azhar had arrived.
He was not—by any reckoning—a brilliant skipper, more a lucky one. He began the trend of having pitches suit the home side in Indian cricket.
He had a weakness against short-pitched pace bowling which he responded to in a counter-attacking style—all aggression , preferring to die by the sword rather than live on his knees.)
The scoreboard listing the mangled names of Sri Lankan and Indian players gives the game away.
The movie would have appealed to viewers more had it attempted to be a more accurate portrayal of Azhar’s feats and foibles. Look no further than The Program for a template.
The movie is bland and boring.
If you’re a die-hard Azhar fan, you’re better off staying home and catching his batting and fielding videos instead on Youtube or DVD.
Reactions to Vinod Kambli’s match-fixing allegations keep pouring in from all quarters.
Vaibhav Purandare, in a hard-hitting article for the Hindustan Times, points out that Mohammad Azharuddin’s comments deriding Kambli “are in poor taste.”
(The article is not available online—yet).
Though I am not in agreement with Purandare’s professed opinion on other topics (more about that later), I am in sync on this.
Kambli comes from a backward caste; he was unconventional, even Calypsonian, in his approach to the game.
He was once termed the only West Indian in the Indian side.
Is Messr Vinod Kambli a liar?
Sachin Tendulkar’s schoolmate did a Kapil Dev on national television venting his angst at the perceived injustices done him by Indian selectors and pointing the finger of suspicion against his teammates for the 1996 World Cup semifinal debacle.
Mohammad Azharuddin Questions Vinod Kambli’s Class
What he said:
"What Vinod is saying is absolutely rubbish! He must have been sleeping in the team meeting."
Former India skipper, Mohammad Azharuddin, rubbishes teammate Vinod Kambli’s allegations that the 1996 World Cup semifinal against Sri Lanka was fixed.
The match was forfeited by the home side due to crowd violence; the Indians were on the verge of a humiliating defeat.
Speaking to Star News, Kambli said:
I’ll never forget the match because my career ended after it. I was stunned by the decision to field.I was standing on one side and on the other end my fellow batsman was telling me that we would chase the target. However, soon after they quickly got out one by one. I don’t know what transpired.
Something was definitely amiss. However, I was not given a chance to speak and was dropped soon after. Our team manager at that time, Wadekar, was aware of everything.
Ajit Wadekar, the then team manager, contested Kambli’s version of transpired events, saying:
I did not even think there was anything suspicious in that loss. It was purely because we misread the wicket and were slightly overconfident after beating Pakistan in the quarterfinal.
Why did he wake up suddenly after 15 years? During my four-and-half year stint (with the national team), I used to frequently have dinner with Vinod. Had he told me about his suspicions then, I would have requested the board to probe the matter.
“During the team meeting, only (Navjot Singh) Sidhu and I felt the wicket would deteriorate and that we should bat first. However, a majority of the bunch felt a wicket couldn’t deteriorate much.”
Mohammad Azharuddin, speaking to CNN-IBN, defended his decision to bowl first:
We decided to field. It was discussed and a team decision. It was a collective decision. I don’t have any regrets, no reason to shy away from this. What Vinod is saying is absolutely rubbish! He must have been sleeping in the team meeting.
We wanted to field first and chase against Sri Lanka, wanted to do something different in the match. Very sad that people are questioning the decision. For Kambli to talk like this, it shows his class (pedigree).
Vinod Kambli on so many occasions has said that I was the best captain he has played under. It’s very annoying the way the statement was made.
The former India skipper’s fight against the life-ban handed out by the BCCI in 2000 continues in the Hyderabad high court. Azhar’s cricketing career was cut short at 99 Test matches.
"The match-fixing case is going on in the High Court. When my name is cleared, everybody will come to know the truth. I am not affected by the allegations. Kambli has made a fool of himself.”
What Azharuddin really meant:
“By way of explanation, we enjoyed a cosy dressing room atmosphere.”
What Azharuddin definitely didn’t:
“What kind of query is that? Sleepwalking through our innings?”
Image via Wikipedia
The dust has settled on the IPL auctions.The players have been bought (or not).The teams have been formed (or not). The franchises are happy (or not).
The rumour mills ,however, have been overactive.
Among the numerous reports floating around, these are the more salient ones:
In the wake of events that have transpired recently namely the Pak match-fixing scandal and the IPL mess, the BCCI (on advisement from the ICC) has decided to combat the malaise on a war-footing.
In addition to Anil Kumble mentoring the current Indian team, outside consultants are being invited to deliver seminars that will address the ills that plague Indian cricket.
These seminars are to be held under the auspices of the newly formed BCCI Institute whose mission is to provide and foster the continuous growth and education of its stakeholders.