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Aiming for a sixer

September 01, 2013

After a delayed Eid release and comments from Shahid Afridi himself concerning the item number in the film, Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi finally hit the screens last weekend. And while 2.5 hours of runtime means the film might give you a sore back, it is nonetheless an entertaining fare that manages to get a lot of things right even while getting some wrong.

The story begins with cricket superstar Akbar Deen (Humayun Saeed) going off to Dubai with the Pakistani cricket team. At a party with a friend, we are informed Akbar doesn’t drink alcohol or engage in match fixing, but after a night on the town with a belly dancer played by Mathira, whom he somehow mistakes for his wife played by Mahnoor Baloch, Deen wakes up to find he is being wrongfully charged with possession of narcotics by the Dubai authorities. The scandal results in Deen losing his place in the team and his family. Fast forward to 15 years later and a cricket club in Sialkot is struggling to stay afloat. A talented young pinch hitter, Shahid Bhatti (Noman Habib) dreams of playing like his hero, Shahid Afridi, but problems at home mean he has to quit the game and wait tables. However, when news of the Pepsi Cricket Cup offering a sizeable reward for the best team in the country comes around, Shahid and the club’s owner can’t help but think about competing — except that they need a coach to turn their ragtag bunch of misfits into a team.

It’s not hard to see where the story is going to go. And yet despite being the story of the scrappy underdog, MSHA doesn’t really promise to be unpredictable. In fact, it relies on some well-strung stereotypes to keep the story light-hearted and as fast-paced as a film about cricket should be. A strong connection is never established between Bhatti and Shahid Afridi (in fact he doesn’t even get as much screen time as his coach), nor are we told if the film’s story echoes Shahid Afridi’s own or if the players on the team are really just looking for a hero. But such weaknesses in the script are going to be common fare for a nascent film industry in its first year of real ‘revival’.

The cricket is precisely where the film succeeds and cricket fans will find much to laugh about here. From the fielder that takes too long to throw, batsmen that hit sixes because “chakkon mein hi maza hai”, and giving names to our fast bowlers such as Kaali Aandhi (Gohar Rasheed), MSHA gets everything about the sport right. So when the team recruits the sole Christian player in the team, Michael Magnet (Ainan Arif), you can bet the first name that comes to mind is the player formerly known as Yusuf Youhana. And thanks to some witty writing on the part of Vassay Chaudhry, we have some hilarious scenes between an over zealous “moulvi” fast bowler and a “kaafir” wicket-keeper.

Along with the cricket, MSHA also succeeds thanks to a number of memorable performances from its supporting cast. Shafqat Cheema as a good-for-nothing patriarch, Hamza Ali Abbasi as Majeed Moulvi and the club owner Malik (Ismail Tara) have the best lines in the film and make sure a shallow script never gets stale. Tara and Cheema especially prove why they are stalwarts of the industry with performances that easily make them the best characters in the film. Javed Sheikh and Nadeem also prove once again why they are actors of the highest calibre and even Humayun Saeed, despite some unnecessary posturing, pulls off a decent performance. He might not be able to emote as effectively as Javed Shaikh or Nadeem, but fortunately his role as the sullen and serious coach requires minimal emotional investment and he manages to do just enough to be convincing.

But while it was obvious that the producers of the film would be drawing on the star power of their fraternity to pull support, there is really no need for as many cameos as there are in MHSA. In fact, many of them end up grossly underused — a writer of the calibre of Muhammad Ahmed, for instance, surely deserves to have at least a few lines in the film, no? Which brings up another weakness — the women. The women in the film don’t serve any purpose except to portray roles that only women could play — mother, wife, sister, girlfriend, seductress. Mathira continues to be used as a gimmick, but at least Mahnoor Baloch, who didn’t age a day in the 15 years that passed between when the story began and ended, might want to cash her years of experience rather than just her looks. Ainny Jafferi, too, the sprightliest of all the female characters, should have negotiated a better role than just that of being a pretty face on film.

There are a number of facepalm moments in the film — an absolutely pointless and comical fight sequence in which Humayun Saeed does a sort of flapping as he tries to fly/jump, Mahnoor Baloch’s Katrina Kaif-inspired dance and a catch that couldn’t have gotten more Lollywood. It also seems that like our batting, it’s hard for some of our film-makers to control themselves. Where the film really loses points is in its abrupt resolution and all the loose ends it leaves — for instance drug abuse ends up as a neglected tangent after being mentioned thrice and being the main cause for the lead actor’s dismissal from the national team. Nor do we ever find out what happens to the lead antagonist and his cronies.

Still, what makes MHSA worth watching is that it’s a Pakistani film that you can finally identify with and gives much to allow us to laugh at what makes us, well, us (the scene with the country folks who think they are under 19 just because they haven’t been married yet is especially classic). And unlike many of us who think Pakistan begins and ends with Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, the film is about the average small town Pakistani from Sialkot. At the heart of it is a story of a bunch of simpletons against the ruling elite; farm grounds versus sports facilities; those that can’t speak English well against those that are snobs because they can. Many will be able to spot similarities to Bollywood films such as Chak De India and Race, but as long as you curb any new found abilities as critics of the medium, plenty of comic relief and a script that keeps you glued to your seat makes MHSA good fun at the theatre.

A decent score

Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi’s, soundtrack, composed by Kami and Shani consists of five tracks and features vocals from Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and the writing talents of Shani, Nadeem Asad and Sabir Zafar.

It’s no surprise that the soundtrack is heavily inspired by Bollywood. But if the soundtrack had been the recipient of more publicity, we would be listening to a lot more of it. There are no breakthrough songs on the soundtrack but at least a couple of them deserve more than a second listen.

Angreja, a track reminiscent of Honey Singh’s Angreji Beat, is easily the song most likely to stick around in listener’s ears and should find its way onto a mehndi playlist — if only more people had heard about it. Jera Vi Hai Aanday, with a dhol and flute backing it is another track with a catchy beat — although for some reason it reminds me of an August 14 commercial and I can’t seem to decide if that takes away from the song or not. Nonetheless, both are good songs which would be receiving a lot more airtime if they had been released as part of a Bollywood film.

The other songs on the album are mediocre at best — Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s Malal especially is way too mellow for an upbeat film like MHSA and is a bit of a disappointment. Teri Hi Kami too lacks any real hook, and in fact, the song’s video ends up sucking any attention away from the song. Beautiful Night, an English track, too seems awkwardly included in the soundtrack and it’s questionable whether anyone will be blaring the song through any car speakers.