Calm, calculated and downright humble. That was my first impression of Adnan Sarwar, as he invited us into his room at Pearl Continental hotel for an in-depth interview regarding his latest film Shah. Shah, on the face of it, is about a boxer and his triumphs against all odds. However, it is also much more than that. A fight against the injustices meted out to national heroes in Pakistan, as they fall from grace after forced retirements and scanty allowances. From the footpaths of Lyari to the auspicious Olympics, Syed Hussain Shah captured the bronze medal for Pakistan.
Adnan Sarwar essayed that role with precision, brilliance and more. The brains behind the project, he dwells on how a dedicated team spearheaded by him, churned out a diligently impressive film such as Shah. When you talk of odds, they were always stacked against Adnan. It was like a David vs Goliath situation for the fresh-faced actor; his movie stood toe to toe with stiff competition from seasoned directors and famous actors, all vying for rave reviews. However just like Shah, Adnan stood his ground and made his mark.
Adnan had courted fame earlier as well. Along with bandmate Kiran Chaudhry, he was part of the Lahore-based musical band Club Caramel.
Adnan also revealed to us how he was friends with and part of a small social circle of then-small time musicians such as Mekaal Hasan, Ali Zafar and Fawad Khan (who’ve all gone on to become successful artists now). Even as a member of Club Caramel, Adnan has always been hands-on involved with his projects; he used to compose the tunes, write the lyrics and even direct the videos of his songs. His work ethic and artistic mettle has been versatile and diverse right from the start.
In order to completely understand what led a professional doctor to opt for a career in the entertainment industry, we decided to engage Adnan Sarwar in a conversation and get to know the man who made Shah. From arduous dietary changes to intense physical training and how he wants to redefine Pakistani cinema, Adnan Sarwar talked to us about everything.
Q1. How does it feel to get positive reviews for Shah?
It’s obviously a great feeling to have your work acknowledged by your very own countrymen. The reviews have been fantastic and the critical responses have also been very positive. Keeping in mind there were no item songs or other commercial aspects to the movie, I’d say it’s a phenomenal feeling.
Q2. Why did you decide to make a film on Hussain Shah, of all Pakistani heroes?
I think this question will always be posed, wherever you begin with. To make a film based on Hussain Shah was a good starting point as any. Shah was a childhood hero of mine. I used to stay awake at nights to catch his boxing matches from Seoul, Korea and remember the happiness that he brought to the people of Pakistan with his medal. The fact that he was forgotten afterwards reaffirmed the belief that this would be the first film that I would make.
Q3. What was Hussain Shah’s response to the movie?
He was in tears. Him and me, we both cried at the premiere since it was a very emotional film for both of us. Hussain Shah was happy and overjoyed to see so many Pakistanis acknowledge him as a hero once again, after the nation had forgotten his heroic story. So many important people, so many stars saw Shah and admired it. He was overjoyed to see the film and was ecstatic at the response it generated.
Q4. How did it feel like to have Ali Zafar and boxer Amir Khan back your movie?
I am thankful to Ali and to Amir for endorsing the film. Ali has always been very supportive of the local film scene and Amir of course wants to promote boxing in Pakistan.
The halls goes into tears as Hussain Shah takes a bow at the premier of “Shah”. A film based on his life as a boxer. pic.twitter.com/0ec2hZUwsb
— Ali Zafar (@AliZafarsays) August 15, 2015
Boxer Amir Khan promotes Shah The Film by ARYNEWS
Me and my team, comprising of five to six people, are committed to make more movies in the future. I’m determined to be the actor and director in my films. If I receive an offer from abroad or within Pakistan, it will be of secondary importance for me.
Q6. As an actor and director, who would you want to work with next?
I’d like to work with Nabeel Qureshi, who directed Na Maloom Afraad, since he is a brilliant director. His sense of direction is fantastic. I’d also never pass a chance to work with Jami sahab. He has the status of a legendary director in Pakistan and I would absolutely love the chance to work with him.
Q7. And who’d you like to share the screen with, as an actor?
Well, there were numerous people at Shah’s premiere and they were all praise for my work. Humayun sahab also showed up and I was very happy to see some talented individuals admire my work. Of course I’d love to work with them in the future.
Q8. If you had a more sound financial backing and a bigger budget, do you believe Shah could have been better?
Yes, obviously. Had I received a bigger budget for the movie you would have obviously seen a more refined and a more polished product at the end of the day. You get to see the effects of budgetary constraint on the screen and you also get to hear it in the audio. However, the movie had a strong story and coupled with a stellar concept and wonderful execution, we were able to pull off a really good movie. We received a standing ovation at almost every theater that Shah was played in. I would never want to ask for an enormous budget, since I don’t want to cost my producers a lot of money. I don’t need a lot of money to make good films.
Q9. You earlier stated that Shah came to you as a romantic movie. Would you like to play the role of a chocolate hero someday?
(Laughs). I’ve never decided to be a certain kind of actor. Shah was a non-commercial venture however, you will see me in an upcoming commercial film. I want to redefine Pakistani cinema and let people know that this is Pakistani cinema.
Q10. Are you still keeping up with the strict diet you imposed on yourself, for the movie Shah?
(Laughs again). Not at all. In fact, I celebrated the last day of my shoot at Waris Nihari at Lahore. I’m a true Lahori, I cannot live without food. I actually lost 12 kilograms for this movie and trained at times on an empty stomach, just to know how Hussain Shah must have felt. So yeah, I’m not following that strict diet anymore.
Q11. Were you interested in how India would react to Shah?
Not really. I mean, I’m really big on Pakistan-India friendship and would even like to think of myself as an activist of that. However, this movie is about the truth and what happened. My intention is not to offend anyone but if they do get offended, well that’s not my problem.
Q12. The guy who played the corrupt Boxing Federation official. He was so convincing. How were you able to churn out such wonderful performances from such actors?
As a director, you can never convince a good actor to play the role well. I mean, if he’s talented he will put in an astounding performance. Faiz Chauhan, the guy who played that corrupt official’s role, is one hell of an actor. Soon as I saw him audition, I cancelled all auditions and welcomed him on board. Contrary to his on-screen persona, he’s a wonderful human being. (Laughs)
Q13. Did Hussain Shah actually win so many bouts without a pair of shoes?
Yes he did. Until the Olympics, Hussain Shah wasn’t even provided a pair of shoes by the Boxing Federation. I also had to shoot several scenes for the movie in which I jogged naked feet, to portray Shah. This was really painful for me and my feet got scratched and hurt as well. However, I did that for only three days but was amazed at how Hussain Shah bore so much when he jogged without shoes for so long.
As the interview finally came to an end and we bid Adnan farewell, our instincts told us that this was a star in the making. Adnan Sarwar has all the ingredients of a stellar actor; undying resolve, ample artistic acumen and the ability to fight till the end.
Adnan Sarwar, ladies and gentlemen, is a force to be reckoned with in the near future.
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