Emraan was the first and only choice to play Azhar – Tony
Being a diehard fan of Mohammad Azharuddin, making a film on the renowned cricketer was a dream come true for Director Tony D’Souza. Azhar, though a true life story that will showcase various aspects of the cricket’s life, is not a biopic. In a chat with Pandolin, Tony dwells into the making of the film and the larger than life persona of one of India’s most favorite yet controversial cricketing icons.
What inspired you to make a film on Mohammad Azharuddin?
I am a huge fan of Azhar. I grew up watching him. I used to pay money just to watch him play. I stopped watching cricket in 2000, when he stopped playing. I simply lost interest. Prior to 2000, you can quiz me about any cricketer or cricket statistic, and I might beat Harsha Bhogle. Post that, I know nothing. I met Azharuddin much later in life through a minister. I went to his house at 11:30 PM to take his autograph, without a pen and paper, and over time I got friendly with him. When this film was offered to me, it was like a dream come true; to be making a film on someone whom I have idolized all my growing years. That’s how the film happened.
WATCH: AZHAR FIRST LOOK
How much of the film is true and how much of it is fictional?
It would be hard to give a percentage. But all the songs and all the dialogues of Lara’s (Dutta) are fictional. Some things have been dramatized, like Ermraan (Hashmi, actor) saying, “Mera naam Mohammad Azharuddin hai.” I am sure Azharuddin would never have done that. But all the events are true.
So would you call it a biopic?
It is based on certain factual events on his life. I don’t think Azhar ever walked out on the street holding a bike, singing a song, and kissing on the road. We have a character called Meera, played by Lara Dutta, which is fictional. It is not a biopic in that sense. Yes, there are a lot of events and circumstances in his life, the hardships he faced, and how he overcame them. It is a human story of how a man overcame hardships. In that sense, it is a true life story, but it is not a biopic.
Since the film is about an iconic cricketer like Azharuddin, what research did it entail?
I didn’t go on the ground and watch the actual matches. Besides that, I did everything else. Everything that you can ask me from the pitches, to the balls used, to the scores of each match, to his hairstyle, to his walk, to what he ate, we researched everything. It was Emraan (Hashmi, actor) who researched more than everybody else.
Was Emraan Hashmi your first choice to play the role of Azhar?
Emraan was the first and only choice to play Azhar. I have seen his body of work. There is no other actor who would have dedicated himself to this character for a year and a half. Emraan hasn’t worked on any other project except Azhar during that time period. He sits the same way as his character now. I think he is scarred for life (laughs).
How hard was it for Emraan to convincingly portray Azhar?
Emraan had nightmares about the whole thing. He would wake up early and practice for hours. Azhar would come everyday to coach him. For six months, he did nothing but play cricket. He would have swollen wrists all the time.
Would you say that he has been successful in copying Azharuddin’s mannerisms?
I wouldn’t say that Emraan has copied Azhar. He has done his impression of Azhar. It might not be bang on hundred percent, but Azhar is very happy with the performance. The way he speaks is very difficult for a common man to imitate. He has got a unique swagger to himself.
What are the aspects of Azhar’s life that are covered in the film?
It starts right from the moment when he was born, and ends with the court verdict. We haven’t touched upon his political career. There were a lot of things that we had to fast forward. There were some personal tragedies which we didn’t include. And there was no intention to sensationalize him to look like a God. It is a human drama.
Was it difficult to leave out certain aspects of his life from the film?
It was very difficult. What you might find interesting, might not be interesting to somebody else, and vice versa. It was a very tough call, and I hope that I have done justice to that. There’s a lot more that I wanted to show, but didn’t.
What were the aspects that you wanted to cover but couldn’t?
If you talk in cricketing terms, his century against South Africa, where he hit Lance Klusener for four straight 4’s in his very first match. The longest 6 in history is by Azhar, which nobody knows about. And in those days, the bats used were thin and the bowlers used to bowl at 150 miles, which is not the case now. I felt that I should also showing the greatness of the man. But when you are doing the life story of someone so vast, there is so much that you can leave out. We haven’t dwelled into every aspect of his. We have focused on the hardships.
So, there isn’t any personal life in the movie?
There is! But it is more about the questions that everybody wants to ask. The first is going to be about match-fixing. The second is going to be about Sangeeta. The third is going to be about his wife. These are things that we expect the audience would like to see.
How involved was Azhar in the making of the film? Was he hesitant about any factors?
Azhar was a pillar of strength to us in the making of the film. He was involved a lot in the film. He was naturally hesitant about the movie, as anybody would be. Tomorrow, if somebody is making a film on my life, I would be very hesitant. I wouldn’t want some aspects of my life to be shown to everybody. In that sense he was hesitant. But he understands the story as we told. And he was quite okay about it.
Was the film shot on real grounds with real crowd?
Yes, it was shot on real grounds and stadiums. These days there is no real crowd. The last film to use real crowd was Ben Hur. If I were to use real crowd, the budget would have exceeded exponentially
Transcribed by Shikhar Goyal