TORONTO: Hansal Mehta’s Shahid, one among the 10-odd Bollywood films – or rather Indian films – screened at the just concluded Toronto International Film Festival, is the searing story of a reluctant jihadi who becomes a human rights crusader and pays with his life for daring to defend an innocent.
With Rajkumar Yadav in the role of Shahid, the film is based on the real-life story of Shahid Azmi, a human rights activist and lawyer who was gunned down by unknown assailants in 2010 for defending accused Mumbai bomber Fahim Ansari.
Hansal Mehta (seen in the picture above with actress Prabhleen Sandhu) is even-handed in his treatment of the theme of terrorism and its innocent victims as he beautifully captures the rabid jihadi mindset at the start of the film – how fundamentalists brainwash young innocent Muslims with the promise of a glorious life in the hereafter.
Young Shahid too tries to become a terrorist after witnessing the riots in the Govandi slum of Mumbai by joining a jihadi camp in the mountains (filmed nicely in Himachal Pradesh). But he turns his back on jihad after hearing the camp leader’s pervert speeches.
However, on his return home, he is arrested and jailed on trumped-up terrorism charges. In jail, he acquires law education and when he is released after charges are dropped he vows to defend innocents who become victims of the unjust system.
The visual journey of Shahid’s transformation from a reluctant jihadi to a firebrand lawyer who logically and forcefully defends his clients in crowded courtrooms makes for a forceful story – how innocent people become victims of mass hysteria simply because of their faith and how defending them becomes risky.
Punjabi actress Prabhleen Sandhu has played the role of Shahid’s wife with aplomb.
“Shahid was a remarkable human being whose story must be told to the whole world. I am contacting Amnesty International to have a look at this film as it was a clear case of human rights violations,” Mehta said at the screening of the film.
He said he shot the film in 37 days. “Initial jihadi camp scenes was shot in Himachal and the rest of the film was shot in Mumbai,’’ he said.
Asked about reported threats to him after the making of the film, he laughed, “Even my wife threatens me sometimes. So what?”
Fahim Ansari was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court last month.