Shahid is a fictionalised portrait of human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi, who was gunned down in his office in 2010. He was 32. In the film, director Hansal Mehta and writer Sameer Gautam Singh create a portrait of a man who lived many lifetimes in one — after the 1992-93 communal riots in Mumbai, Shahid spent time in a terrorist training camp.
Disillusioned there, he returned to the city, only to be imprisoned on suspicion of terrorist activities. After prison, he studied law and emerged as a hero despite his short career lasting only seven years. It’s almost too much material for one film and Mehta struggles to fit it all in. We move from jail to Shahid’s family to his hesitant love affair with a client.
The actors, from Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (playing Shahid’s brother) to Baljinder Kaur (playing his mother), are very good. But Mehta’s telling, especially in the first half, is laborious and I found myself getting restless. You might too. Thankfully, Shahid gains momentum in the second half. Mehta skillfully captures the Kafkaesque circus of Indian courts, with lawyers arguing, judges attempting to keep order and undertrials languishing in jail.
The film never becomes strident. Instead, Mehta quietly exposes the anti-Muslim stance so deeply entrenched at every level of the law-and-order system. Cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan snakes his camera through tenements, cafes, trains and buses to create a palpable sense of a permanently festering city. Ultimately, however, Shahid is Raj Kumar’s triumph. His Shahid has strength, anguish and a controlled anger, but also real charm. His smile lights up the frame. See Shahid for him.