‘Azhar’ is not meant to be a biopic, but cricketing enthusiasts are still likely to be disappointed by the movie’s departure from cricketing facts
‘Azhar’, the movie, is a huge disappointment for those who have followed the career of a cricketer, who, no matter what the movie projects, will be synonymous with the match fixing controversy.
The ‘this is not a biopic’ disclaimer at the start of the movie notwithstanding, the cricketing fraternity and journalists did not expect to see so much fiction and dramatisation outweigh so little fact. Mess with cricket facts, and discerning enthusiasts won’t take it kindly.
Former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin (left) is played by Emraan Hashmi in the new release Azhar. File pics
The most astounding of misinterpretations was Ravi Shastri in the movie telling Azharuddin that he could go home if he didn’t want to play a domestic game when the news of his grandfather’s death was broken to him. I’d like to ask the director what the need was for this distortion. Isn’t the real story (which is in Azharuddin’s official biography co-written by Harsha Bhogle) fascinating? Bhogle writes about a telegram that lands up in the hands of India under-25 captain Ravi Shastri. Knowing it is for him, Azharuddin insists on reading the words: ‘Grandfather serious. Start immediately.’ Shastri talks him into playing the game against David Gower’s 1984-85 Englishmen. Azharuddin, who scores a century, has no doubt that his grandfather is no more, but confirmation of his death comes only when he meets his father in Hyderabad after the Ahmedabad match.
Watching ‘Azhar’ prompted me to turn back the clock to the first time I interacted with him in the winter of 1994. He was casual and relaxed, just like when I’d first seen him, sitting on the steps of the Taj in Colaba, the day before India faced England in the 1987 World Cup semi-finals at Wankhede Stadium. As a freelance reporter, I headed to the same ground to interview Ali Irani, the team physiotherapist, on the last day of practice before the Azharuddin-led outfit left for New Zealand for a one-off Test and one-day series. I approached the captain for an interview and to my great surprise, not only did he agree, he also answered my questions in the dressing room, with other players giving me that ‘what’s a reporter doing here?’ look. He was not obliged to speak to an unknown reporter, but as I discovered along the way, that was Azharuddin.
Four years later, I happened to be staying in a room just opposite his Taj Samudra suite during the 1998 triangular series in Sri Lanka. On the night of June 23, a good couple of hours after India were nearly done in by the rain rule against New Zealand at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium, I drummed up the courage to knock on his door and ask him how he felt about the possibility of losing a game had the rain come down four balls later and India were cruising to victory when it did. There were no so-called mandatory press conferences those days and the best place to get hold of the captain was at the hotel. He opened the door with a towel around his neck. If he was irritated, he didn’t show it, but he was surprised to see me. He didn’t lash out at the rain-rule, but called for it to be simplified and fairer to the side that was on the ascendancy. I got my story.
Around 1997, Azharuddin became the media’s whipping boy. Success, they said, got to his head, to his feet, to his entire body that was covered with designer wear after cricket hours. He would frustrate the media — tuck into his sandwich as they got set to ask their questions, clip his toe nails and mumble something to give the ‘take your quotes and get out of here’ impression. In Rajkot in 1995, during the Board President’s XI vs New Zealand game, Azharuddin spent close to an hour on the phone with someone while veteran journalist SK Sham waited to file his reports for an international news agency.
But Azharuddin was a successful captain and a batsman who could have an orgasmic effect on some. And there was a human side to him. There is an apocryphal story about him giving away his expensive wristwatch to a cricketer who was merely marvelling at it. He has a heart too — the only Test cricketer who made it for Raj Singh Dungarpur’s funeral at Dungarpur, Rajasthan in 2009, according to reports. Raj Singh — sunglasses and all — is in the movie, uttering his famous words, ‘Miya, captain banoge?’ while offering Azharuddin the India captaincy. Unfortunately, Raj Singh is shown as the BCCI president and not the chairman of selectors as he was in Bangalore in 1990.
At the end of the movie, I was left wondering why there was a warped ring to so many scenes, but I reminded myself that this was just a movie, not a documentary. Even a brilliant one like Fire in Babylon had flaws.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org