The Fake Sheikh, a three-part docuseries released by Amazon, could compete with any of Netflix’s top-notch docuseries. More than just an information dump, this series has proven to be a great exploration of a gripping narrative and a cinematic reconstruction based on the story. The narrative is centered on British journalist Mazher Mahmood’s rise to prominence through his brilliant but questionable investigative journalism and his eventual fall from grace. The Fake Sheikh is an important story that portrays a common man’s ambition to reach the sky, and his failure due to his inability to commit to truth and honesty.
Born in Birmingham, England, Mazher Mahmood hails from a South Asian background. From an early age, he saw his father, who was a Pakistani journalist, as limited to focusing on stories about his community. Mazher, aka Maz, wanted to break those boundaries and work not only on Asian stories but all kinds of stories from around the world. He was always a desperately ambitious person who wanted to climb the ladder of success by any means necessary.
During his initial days, he met many people and befriended one of his colleagues, Paul Samrai, who was a tipster for the News of the World newspaper. That’s when he started doing really good journalism. From exposing the evil image of Dr. Rangwani, who wanted his mistress dead, to uncovering the womanizer directors of a renowned football club, he continued to provide News of the World with some of the best stories and established himself as an extraordinary investigative journalist. He was a maverick and almost started a career as a masked superhero to expose the evils of society. Although his tactics were questionable, they always ended up being effective. One of his infamous ploys was to impersonate a Dubai sheik and lure his target into a tempting trap. Using this strategy, he exposed the Page 3 model, Emma Morgan, as a drug dealer, causing significant damage to the model’s career. In this docuseries, not only are Mazher Mahmood’s associates and their experiences working with Maz highlighted, but we also get to hear from many others, like Emma Morgan, who fell into his trap and subsequently lost their reputations.
Mazher Mahmood single-handedly hatched these plans, and along with his associates, he masterfully carried out the ploy of being a fake sheikh that helped expose one corrupt person after another. He covered Victoria Beckham’s attempted kidnapping and “Slumdog Millionaire” child actress Rubina Ali’s father’s attempt to sell his daughter, which are some of the stories that helped him earn his name. All these stories attracted a lot of public attention, but even though his name became known to everyone, he never revealed his face in public. Even in TV shows or interviews, he avoided facing the camera. But Mazher did not stop right there. With his skyrocketing ambitions, he wanted to acquire real power, which would have the potential to expose the wrongdoings of not just businessmen or drug addicts but big politicians and prime ministers from all around the world.
Having met and worked with businessman and media mogul Keith Rupert Murdoch, he even began to turn against undocumented immigrants. He denied the struggles of these immigrants coming to foreign lands, even coming from a similar background. But this story did not garner much attention. He thought that this would make him a huge success and get him close to Murdoch, but his ambitions were thwarted. His associate and friend, Paul Samrai, despised Maz for going so far, eventually cutting ties with him. However, things took a dark turn when he tried to expose the drug-abusing activities of pop star-turned-model Tulisa Contostavlos by using his identity as the fake sheikh. But this did not prove to be his ace in the hole but rather marked the beginning of his end.
It turned out that Maz defamed Tulisa by tampering with the evidence to make her look like a social degenerate, which severely damaged her reputation. Tulisa faced legal charges for drug abuse, but she filed counter-charges against Maz for his web of deception. She was brave enough to come forward with evidence that it was the fake Sheikh, Mazher Mahmood, who tampered with the evidence to force the point that Tulisa was a drug addict. Finally, after a long trial period, Tulisa won her case, proving that Mazher Mahmood was a liar and a life destroyer. Mahmood spent 15 months in prison and disappeared from public view after his release. Perhaps he is freelancing now or planning to return to his old life in some other way, but with the damage his reputation has suffered, he will never be treated like he was in the prime of his life.
The Fake Sheikh is an interesting story that won’t bore you with a barrage of facts. It revolves around the journey of a mysterious man who leads his life in journalism and, at the same time, destroys his own life due to his insatiable lust for power and fame. His life could have been something else if his emotional self had not taken such drastic steps in life. Not only did he damage Tulisa’s reputation, but he went too far with dishonesty and lies.
Talking about the documentary style, I am personally very pleased that the makers treated it like a movie rather than just an informational video. Although it dragged a bit at times by giving some repetitive information, overall the experience it provided was great and worth your time investment. The documentary series depicts a true account of events that are probably unknown to many people around the world. Mazher Mahmood has rarely been in front of the camera in almost his entire life, so his enigmatic personality remains a mystery. Through this three-part series, we not only get to know an outlaw journalist like Mahmood, but we also see the flaws and the versatility of journalism. However, it is debatable whether the strategy Maz followed was applicable to all bases, but with good intentions and an honest journalistic approach, his tactics had the potential to be effective. Ultimately, his work not only exposed the bad guys in our society but also saved many people from harm, which we won’t be able to deny.