Review: You can escape a terror attack. You can fight terrorism. But what happens when you are branded a ‘Terrorist’ for life? On the grounds that your name reads ‘Zahir’, ‘Faheem’, ‘Khan’, ‘Shaikh’ (and not Matthew or Donald? God help!).
Even if you’re acquitted, the right to live a life in fairness and dignity is permanently adjourned. Case closed! The story of ‘Shahid’ (fact remixed with fiction) confronts us with hard-hitting questions on religious fundamentalism, flawed legal investigations, and injustices suffered by the underdogs.
In his teens, Shahid (Raj Kumar) witnesses the savagery of religious antagonism during the 1993 Mumbai riots. Shattered and shaken, he escapes from his ‘slumdog’ existence to Kashmir to join the militants. Unnerved with lessons in jihad and jingoism, he returns to a brief life of normalcy in Mumbai.
The past catches up. He’s arrested and thrown into prison under Mumbai’s anti-terror laws. During his term he meets co-quaidi and mentor who shows him light in the dark cells of his tormented existence. Shahid begins studying in jail, once acquitted, he gets his law degree and amidst much resentment, humiliation (often called jihadiyon ka Gandhi) and life-threatening challenges, he becomes a fearless champion for his cause. He remarkably wins some of the most controversial terrorism cases (including defending the prime accused in 2008 Mumbai terror attack). One fateful night Shahid is gunned down. His case files reopen.
Mehta’s film is brutally honest, brave and above all a fascinating humane story. Nothing distracts the dark and disturbing subject, the narrative is not found guilty of over-dramatizations; indulgence or loaded lines (like ‘tareek pe tareek’ and ‘Milord’, here). He finds a perfect pitch at crucial points – The courtroom interrogations, Shahid’s subtle romance with Mariam (Prabhleen), and moments shared with Arifbhai (Mohammed, in a fine performance) are subtle, but stirring.
Raj Kumar is superb; he peels layers to strip to the core of his character. He magnifies the most intense scenes with sheer brilliance of an understated, realistic performance. It warrants applause. And an unadulterated encore. Catch it if real cinema is what you crave.