“If you want to change the system, be a part of it.”
Starring: Raj Kumar Yadav, Baljinder Kaur, Prabhleen Sandhu, Md. Zeeshan Ayyub, K K Menon and Vipin More
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Year of Release: 2012
Shahid is the story of a young man’s long stint with the law. First as a prisoner and then as a criminal lawyer. The movie is based on the real-life experiences of Shahid Azmi.
Shahid Azmi, as a young boy was disillusioned after the 1992-93 Bombay riots. Thereafter, he leaves the country to undergo training with Kashmiri separatists in PoK only to face further disillusionment with the extreme views and methods adopted by his trainers there.
Left with no recourse, he returns home to Bombay where he is arrested by the police under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for involvement with terrorists. Here commences Shahid’s long association with the Indian criminal justice system.
Upon arrest, he is immediately sent to a police station in Delhi for interrogation where he is subject to long hours of torture. Belonging to a lower-class family from Bombay, Shahid is unable to fight it out through the legal system and, although innocent, is forced to confess to his involvement with a terrorist plot to murder certain politicians in India. Thereafter, he is transferred to Delhi’s Tihar jail.
It is said that there are only two places where a man truly discovers himself – war and prison. For Shahid, it is Tihar, where he establishes his strongest convictions and firmest beliefs, all of which are brought out in the movie. Between picking up the gun again and undertaking the study of law to fight the system from within, Shahid chooses the latter.
The movie casts a number of relatively unknown actors who put in really realistic performances such as Baljinder Kaur as a conservative Muslim housewife and Vipin Sharma as a typical state prosecutor. Paritosh Sand also very nicely plays the role of a TADA Judge.
To the credit of the Director and the actors, lawyers can relate to all of the courtroom scenes in the movie which are portrayed very realistically. There is no excessive drama or any overacting.
In showing Shahid Azmi’s story, the movie brings out both sides of the Indian criminal justice system. One side where the system suffers from long delays and state apathy and the other side where, in spite of everything, it is still possible to get justice in the end. One phrase oft-repeated in the movie is “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Yet, in Shahid’s own words, law is the innocent man’s sole refuge from the prejudices of the police and society.
Shahid himself is not shown as a superhero with an infinite capacity to achieve what he wants but as any other man with inherent limitations.
Apart from the above, I state that Shahid is one of the few Indian movies that come out every year which are as good as the best that come out in the world. I say this about Shahid because the movie pays great attention to realism and towards conveying effectively the reality about one of the largest criminal justice systems of the world. I say this also because it shows the story of a lawyer who practices the law according to his convictions (and not according to his needs) at the price of great hardship.
Needless to say, this movie needs to be watched particularly by law students and young lawyers.
By way of conclusion, I observe that Shahid is an Arabic term which means a ‘witness’ and, in some contexts, a ‘martyr’. The use of ‘Shahid’ in the sense of ‘martyr’ has been borrowed from the Greek and has its origins in the early periods of Christianity when it was under persecution from the Roman Empire. Greek, and not Latin, used to be the language of Christianity then. Those who have watched ‘Shahid’ will understand the relevance of both the usages of the term ‘Shahid’.
Author: Waseem S. Ahmed
Editor: Ankit Rastogi