I had to understand Shahid Azmi’s thought process, not just his likes and dislikes, says Rajkumar Yadav, talking about his resolute portrayal of the slain lawyer and human rights activist in ‘Shahid’

There’s very little that we, folks outside of Mumbai and outside of the judiciary circuit, recall of the life of slain human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi. In his brief and contentious career, Azmi defended those who’ve been (wrongly or presumptuously) nabbed as suspects and languished in jail with no one to shield them. Azmi’s life was cut short when he was shot in his office at the age of 32, on February 11, 2010.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta’s gritty biopic Shahid gives us a brief introduction into Azmi’s early life — he flees from home soon after the 1993 blasts in Mumbai, takes up arms at a training camp from which he runs away only to be arrested on false charges. In jail, with timely guidance, Shahid studies criminal law.

“I was unaware about what Shahid Azmi went through before this role was offered to me,” says actor Rajkumar Yadav, who has breathed life into the biopic with a nuanced performance. The role required homework to ensure that Rajkumar understood the real Shahid, whose family will watch this courtroom drama/biopic closely. Rajkumar read up about the lawyer, spent time with his brother Khalid and other family members. “I had to know Shahid’s thought process closely, not just a slam book of his likes and dislikes,” says Rajkumar.

By then, Rajkumar had established himself as an actor to watch out for through LSD, Shaitaan, Talaash, Gangs of Wasseypur 2, Chittagong and more importantly Kai Po Che. “I try and choose roles that excite me as an actor. I grew as an actor and a human being with Shahid, learning about his ideology, selflessness and passion for work,” he says.

Rajkumar recalls discussing in detail each one of the cases (culled from real life) chosen for the courtroom proceedings in the film. “We wanted to present the arguments as they would unfold in a real courtroom. There was no space for making them over and top and dramatic. I attended a few court sessions to understand technicalities of how lawyers argue and their body language,” says Rajkumar.

Rajkumar appears effortless yet believable and emphatic as Shahid and confesses it was taxing to balance the portrayal of Shahid’s professional and personal life. “His family members told me he had a great sense of humour; he was known to be poker faced while cracking jokes. This is what we showed on screen,” says the actor.

Physically too, the role was taxing for Rajkumar. “I had to lose weight for the initial portions that showed Shahid’s younger days in the training camp and then in jail,” he says.

Shahid has had its due share of recognition at international film festivals before releasing in India. In between graciously acknowledging the praise that’s coming his way, Rajkumar says he’s moved on. He has completed Vikas Bahl’s Queen also starring Kangna Ranaut and a new Mahesh Bhatt film.