When I first watched the official dialogue-less teaser trailer of the film at a news channel, I had almost confused it with a Hollywood film till "Introducing Sachiin Joshi" appeared on screen, I sat up in attention, and sometime later wondered where did the film (and it's promotion) disappear - fearing the film would face the same fate as the yet unreleased Rahul Bose English horror thriller Fired. The film shifted release dated from July to September, and eventually to the 14th of October, which is when most of the promotions started, piquing my interest in the film by the passing of the moment.
Let's now shift to the more neutral aspects of the pre-release expectations. Obviously apart from it's global concept, the director of this film Prashant Chadha has previously directed Aap Kaa Surroor, starring Himesh Reshammiya in one of his worst movies, though from the very film it was already concluded upon that Chadha has a penchant for glossy visuals that bear an international look all through. Apart from these positives, there's nothing much we could expect from a confused looking Joshi, or model Candice Boucher whose only claim to fame has been her appearance on the cover of Playboy.
All in all, for the neutral mind, there's not much in store to expect, and the weird part is, there are so many other people who do not know about the film, defining poor promotion, the after-effects of which were showing clearly, as more than three-fourths of the cinema hall on a late evening show of the film (which should allot a decent occupancy), making me wonder whether I should have gone for Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge or My Friend Pinto instead, and this is where the lights dimmed and my though process came to a halt.
At an international peace summit, the Home Minister of India (Sachin Khedekar) is faced an attack by a deadly virus. Somewhere else, in North Africa, there's an intensive treatment under progress to avert the virus. Back in India, the RAW is busy trying to join the dots when Menon (Sarita Chaudhary) takes over Sam Sharma (Alyy Khan) and Pandey (Ravi Kissen). In a sudden twist of events, she comes to know that a secret operation White Tiger is in progress, with an upright officer Azaan Khan (Sachiin Joshi) with a unique Afghan-Indian lineage, forced to be in-charge of it, with the news of his brother Aman Khan (Neet Mohan) tagged a suspect in a terror attack being used as bait for the operation. As Azaan digs in deeper he finds that the terrorism to be inflicted upon India is far deadlier.
Somewhere around the line, filmmakers become unsure, thereby merging masala and sensibility into a messed up package, being the result of most so-called stylish action thrillers that come out in India, and this is where Chadha hasn't lost hope, developing a story that delivers like a world class product, comparable to Hollywood and European thrillers. Where the screenplay (by Shubra Swarup) falters is with the inclusion of a forced romantic angle with two songs in the second half that only end up glorifying Boucher's stunning looks, but doesn't end up enhancing her character. Also, where the climax could have been effective, the voice-over by Ravi Kissen ends up spoiling whatever base the makers built pre-intermission.
Dialogues by Swarup are smartly written and fit in well with most scenes, one of the most powerful ones being the conversation between doctor Mahfouz and the antagonist Doctor that hits you like rocks on your face. Characterization is decent, with layers of backstories forming backbone to even the short roles in the film. Boucher's sand-artist Aafreen, though hampered by a very short runtime, makes an impact. All in all, the writing marks for one of the more researched ones, not afraid to be international and skip Hindi where not needed. Scenes in Morocco, Paris and Afghanistan have been shot with the actors mouthing Hebrew, French and Pashtun (respectively) for the most part, and this is what I found impressive and brave.
Technically, the movie is outstanding; a lesson in filmmaking to all the budding filmmakers wanting to raise the bar. Axel Fischer's cinematography blows your mind, with each frame looking terrific and holding the viewer's attention throughout. Camerawork complements the cinematography effectively. Editing by Humphrey Dixion and Amitabh Shukla is watertight, and makes most of the first half move at an edge-of-the-seat pace. Visual Effects are realistic, and the impact they create never looks tacky. Hats off to the VFX team for the same.
Sound design is rendered powerfully. Music by Salim-Suleiman is notable, particularly for “Bismillah” in the first half, which jels well with the film's situation. Though “Aafreen” and “Khuda Ke Liye” are highly unwarranted for, they're well composed, backed by beautiful visuals. Background score by the duo is terrific, and I personally feel that the makers should release the score as a separate soundtrack like Hollywood does.
Let me state the significance of the title of the film, also the name of the titular character of the film, which concludes that the performance of the title character should be equally strong, and this is where Sachiin Joshi falls terribly flat with his wooden expression throughout. One cannot deny though that he should be lauded for learning the various martial arts used in the film. Ravi Kissen's character looks out of place. Alyy Khan digs into his meaty role and is efficient. Sarita Choudhary is impactful and makes you sit up and notice. Amber Rose Revah is seen in just one scene. Candice Boucher looks gorgeous and expresses her emotions in those couple scenes she's got to herself subtly. Sajid Hassan efficiently plays Doctor. Dalip Tahil leaves a mark in the short role.
Now to the film's many discrepancies. If Sachiin Joshi is planning to stick around as an actor, he seriously needs to take acting classes. Also, the casting team should have understood that a better, more well-learned actor for the titular role was absolutely necessary. The pre-climactic and climactic portions have been shot well, but what hampered the impact was the all-preachy stance. A more abrupt ending would have delivered a much bigger impact. Also, the romantic interlude between Aafreen and Aazaan looks fake, because of Joshi's discomfort and rigidity towards depicting the intimacy level required.
Overall, Azaan whilst not amazing, it sure is different; not that it's broken Hollywood's barriers of storytelling; and has a razor-sharp narrative that doesn't dip for most part, which make it one of the better action thrillers to come out this year. Also, you cannot deny that it raises the bar in the genre, matching it to international standards in terms of technicality and change in the type and the face of antagonism and terrorism. And though it should be better in many places, it's a palatable one-time movie for action buffs.