February 11, 2010 Mumbai: The news of a lawyer Shahid Azmi shot dead in his office in Kurla shook the nation. His crime: Defending those wrongly accused in cases of terrorism. Three years later his story is to be retold by director Hansal Mehta in the film Shahid, which will hit theatres on October 18.
Portrayed by Raj Kumar of Kai Po Che fame, Azmi's life has been realistically painted in the film.
In a recent tete-a-tete with City Express, Kumar describes how Azmi's family has become his own.He was here to promote the film.
With not much information available on the internet or otherwise, it was Azmi's family Kumar turned to. "I spent a lot of time with them. I wanted to know him as a person, as a human being and not only as a lawyer. I also went to courts to observe how lawyers fight cases," he says.
Apart from his personal research, Kumar still gives all the credit to Azmi's younger brother Khalid for taking him to his brother's world, for telling him who Azmi was. "He was very open and really helped me out," he says.
Even though Kumar has done a splendid job in playing a real life character, what really wins him an applause is his willingness to experiment. The much-hyped nude scene in the film was Kumar's way of experiencing what Azmi went through when he was arrested for plotting against the State.
"I didn't want to go naked just because my producer wanted to sell his film, or to create some controversy. That was not my intension. This scene was actually never meant to be like this. It was meant to be like a normal interrogation scene. But it was not going anywhere and something was missing. I suggested to Hansal sir that Shahid should be naked in this scene. I wanted to feel the metal embarrassment of the character. I wanted to feel his pain. He was an innocent guy who was stripped and questioned in front of everyone, and I wanted to experience that," he says.
Playing a real life character came as a challenge to Kumar as he felt it was his responsibility to paint the right picture. "As an actor, I can't change the character and choose to behave as I want to. There are some facts available and you have to stick to those facts," he says.
But he pulled off the role as he related to Azmi's character. "I could relate to the character as Shahid was a very selfless guy and, somewhere, I am selfless too. I like to see if everything around me is okay or not. I like to be responsible," he says.
Kumar feels that every Indian should watch the film as it has touched some sensitive issues that most people don't know about. "This film is about the common man. And he was fighting for something which he believed in. He was fighting for people who were wrongly accused. Also, as Indians we are quite unaware of what is happening in our country. Even I wasn't aware before shooting for Shahid.
This is a very engaging film as there are elements of humour, love and beautiful relationships too in it," he says.
He adds that Azmi's principles and ideologies will remain with him throughout his life. "It is difficult to snap out of roles, especially for an intense film like Shahid. There are a few things about Shahid that I will carry throughout my life. His motive in life, causes he fought for, his selflessness."
Kumar, who has come to Bangalore before, loves the city for its weather and people. "I love this city. My favourite is the son papdi from KC Das. Back in the days, one of my friends who was from Bangalore used to get it for me. Those are unforgettable memories I have."