Hansal Mehta’s Shahid is the fourth film from Anurag Kashyap’s repertoire to be showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival, besides Gangs of Wasseypur I and II and Peddlers. It’s a first international premiere for the “overwhelmed” director who’s taking the message of equality and human rights to the world.
“My wife’s a Muslim, her last name is Hussain, and every time we go abroad, she’s pulled out for random screening that I’m never subjected to,” says Hansal. “My film traces the true story of the slain human rights activist-lawyer, Shahid Azmi, who was was against racial profiling, and who was a victim of propaganda spread by illiterate, separatist forces. For the first time in 14 years, I’ve made a film worthy of recognition.”
He was working on a film with an inspirational message promoted through a negative protagonist when he woke up to the news of Shahid’s assassination.
“Another advocate, Pallavi Purakyastha, was murdered in her apartment on Thursday. Usually, the barrage of such news leaves us unmoved. But the 32-year-old lawyer’s fight to reform the system while remaining within it struck a chord. It’s a tougher battle than going on a hunger strike to force the government to pass a bill. I told my writer to research the story and he came up with a script about social change and a personal transformation that began in jail,” reminisces Hansal.
The film’s been shot in real locations like a slum in Govandi, Nagpada, Pydhonie, Kurla and Shahid’s office where he was shot. “Many have forgotten him, but his legacy lives on through people whose lives he touched. Real locations are usually shooting-unfriendly, but when people heard we were making a film on Shahid, they’d say ‘banao’ and let us work,” he says, adding that Shahid’s brother Khalid believes they’ve done justice to his life’s story. “We’ll show it to his mother and other family members after Eid.”
Rajkumar Yadav plays the role and, on the last day of the shoot, he told Hansal that he was going to miss Shahid. “People had suggested Shahid Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor for the role. I met some other stars too, but taking a known face would dilute Shahid’s story. Anurag and my casting director suggested Rajkumar and, the moment I met him, I knew he was Shahid!”
* Shahid Azmi’s life turned the day Hindu fanatics attacked him as he was walking home from school, days after the Babri Masjid riots in 1992.
* At 16, he went to Kashmir, and then across the border. But he soon came back, disillusioned with insurgency.
* He was arrested in 1994 for conspiring to kill India’s top politicians and jailed for five years.
* After studying law in jail, he became an activist-lawyer, and grabbed headlines with the 7/11 Mumbai blast cases.
8 He had represented 26/11 co-accused Faheem Ansari in the court.
* Shahid was gunned down in his office in February 2010.