The film Azhar tugs at those past images that most of us may want to erase from our minds but find it hard to obliterate them from our collective memory.
Mohammad Azharuddin’s “real” life story has all the elements and complexities that could have made his “reel” life an absorbing tale to tell, even if it wanted to portray him as more sinned against than sinning.
There was a time when the whole cricketing world was in love with the affable Azhar. In many respects he was the quintessential Indian cricketer, whose batting represented those special traits that drew comparison with artists who created strokes of great beauty with their soft, deft touches.
The wristy elegance of his strokes, with the ball being caressed so gently, left the world wondering where it got the force to speed towards the boundary. His athleticism, be it catching close to the wicket or cutting off boundaries in the deep with one swift swoop on the ball, added to his aura and made him an entertainer par excellence.
Soft-spoken and reserved to a fault, a trait that led many to call him a recluse, added to the mystique of the man. He had the image of being orthodox to the core and led India with distinction, especially in home conditions, where his team became almost invincible. He embodied the image of a secular nation, where a Muslim led India in its most popular sport during a turbulent phase of its political history, that saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
Azharduddin’s rise and his great fall also coincided with India navigating its entry into an economically liberalized world where cricket became a medium for multi-national brands to advertise their wares. The market economy liberated the air-waves from government control and all of a sudden television rights started generating massive revenues for the Indian cricket establishment.
Involvement with book-makers
With the good surfaced the bad and the ugly, that did not leave even Azharuddin untouched. The man, who could do no wrong, was one of the many cricketers found to be involved with book-makers, who manipulated odds to cheat the public.
Unbelievable as it sounded, the investigation and the evidence that the CBI unearthed did not leave anyone in doubt that cricket as a sport had been infiltrated by the book-makers and many top players across the world were selling the game to make money.
What a fall it was for the most loved Indian cricketer, which in a single stroke demolished all the romantic notions we all associated with the game.
Was Azharuddin a villain or a victim of the circumstances and the times we live in? Was he all black, or is there a grey in between are the questions we are still seeking answers to.
Unfortunately this “fictional fantasy”, which is the voice of Azharuddin, creates a one-dimensional figure, so flawless and pristine pure that even if he wanted to he could have done no wrong.
It is a world of caricatures, ridiculing even the legends of Indian cricket, that is best left to film critics to describe. It does injustice to a believer in his undeniable cricketing skills and achievements that have been forgotten due to his involvement in match-fixing.
Azhar’s story needs to be told in all its various human shades, as we are still struggling to find the right place to fit him in our cricket history. A film driven by a single-point agenda that not only absolves him of all charges but makes him a superman-like character is a bit too ludicrous to digest.