Shahid Hansal Mehta

Shahid Hansal Mehta
Yet another example of asperous, naturalistic, energized filmmaking from this year's City-to-City program at TIFF, Shahid, the true story of the titular human rights activist, is as flawed as it is arresting. Wildly unstructured, the looseness of form and lack of stylistic framing gives the impression that anything could happen at anytime, which creates a sense of foreboding and uneasiness as we learn about the turbulent life of Shahid Azmi (Rajkumar Yadav).

Raised in the slums of Eastern Mumbai, amidst religious turmoil between Hindus and Muslims, Azmi fled his home at a young age to a jihadist camp in the mountains. Unconvinced by promises of fantastical afterlife wonders in martyrdom, he fled, only to be jailed for suspected terrorism, which, contrarily, helped him in the long run by connecting him with older political prisoners that encouraged him to get an education.

Once his motivations are contextualized, his notable work as an independent lawyer - fighting politically murky and challenging cases despite constant threats from gangsters - defines the latter half of the movie. Rounding him out as an identifiable character is his doomed relationship with divorcee Mariam (Prabhleen Sandhu).

In vacillating between the personal and political, Mehta ensures that his biopic isn't bogged down with constant talking head exposition between Azmi and various accused terrorists and radicals. Had he spent more time envisioning the final product as a whole, editing out redundancies and superfluous sequences, this balance could have proven compelling and effective.

Even though Sandhu and Yadav do an impressive job with their respective characters, keeping doubts and insecurities looming just beneath the surface, the inconsistency of vision and rough footage distance the audience from their relationship and the overall emotional potential of the film.

Still, the brief life of the central, pseudo-ironic martyr is captured with the requisite dignity, potentially inspiring the downtrodden to fight against injustice and social unease. (AKFPL)