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What will you watch on August 14? Dekh Magar Pyaar Say, Moor or... Shah?

While we wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from watching all three, we have to say that sports biopic Shah’s surprise entry in the cinemas leaves us rather spoiled for choice.

The story of legendary Pakistani boxer Syed Hussain Shah, Shah will chart the turn of his fortunes as he went from homeless child in the streets of Lyari to the first South Asian winner of an Olympic Bronze Medal in boxing at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He remains the only Pakistani athlete to win an individual medal at the Olympic Games in the more than 50 years.

As the film's teaser trailer makes the rounds on the cyber circuit, Dawn.com talks to Shah's writer/director, Adnan Sarwar, who's also acted the lead role and composed the music in the film, and is better known as one half of the cover band/pop-rock duo Club Caramel.

Shah director Adnan Sarwar also plays the titular character of the film — Publicity photo
Shah director Adnan Sarwar also plays the titular character of the film — Publicity photo

Dawn.com: Why were you interested in making a sports biopic, especially one on a boxer who is little known today?

Adnan Sarwar: The film I was initially offered in 2012 to direct and act in was a romantic comedy. However, early on, I was able to convince the producers/financiers to steer the project in the direction of this sports biopic. I remember watching Hussain Shah's Seoul Olympic fights as a child and having spent a fair amount of time as a struggling sportsperson myself (a professional racing driver, Adnan has represented Pakistan in various international racing series and has various international and national racing successes under his belt). So, I always knew that this was the film I wanted to make if an opportunity ever arose. The fact that Shah was forgotten by the public and media after his amazing achievements reaffirmed my belief that this story needed to be told.

We spent the first three months simple looking for Hussain Shah and once we found him, we sat down for a three-day interview, which made the basis of the screenplay of the film. We booked Hussain's life rights in 2012 and have been working on the film ever since.

The official first look trailer of Shah

Dawn.com: Shah's release will coincide with that of Moor and Dekh Magar Pyaar Say. Are you worried about box office returns?

Adnan: I have the utmost respect for the work of our seniors like Jami sahab and Asad sahab and am very excited to watch their respective films. We are also competing against Akshay Kumar's Brothers, a film in the same genre as ours. However, we had the 14th August 2015 release planned for a long time and had been working towards this goal.


We believe our film is unlike any other film being released this year.


With Pakistani cinema seeing a resurgence and dozens of films under production, the era of local films getting clear runs at the box office is now over, which is both good and bad. No matter when a film is released, it will have to compete at the box office with both international and local releases and succeed at its own merit rather than relying on the novelty factor of being a local film, as such. This competition bodes well for the future of the film industry as I believe Pakistani filmmakers have to start raking in commercial success for the industry to thrive further and produce films with that goal in mind. We believe we are telling a story that the people of Pakistan will respond to. We believe our film is unlike any other film being released this year. We respect our seniors immensely but we are not worried about the competition. We know we are the underdogs on 14th August 2015 but this is the situation that we thrive under.

The Shah team is set for the competition with local releases Moor and Dekh Magar Pyaar Se and Bollywood import, Brothers — Publicity photo
The Shah team is set for the competition with local releases Moor and Dekh Magar Pyaar Se and Bollywood import, Brothers — Publicity photo

Dawn.com: How did you manage to keep the production of this film so quiet? No one knew that this film was being made.

Adnan: There was no intention to keep the film a secret. Word did not get out due to multiple reasons, I guess. Primarily because we are a very small team of just five people who juggle all the work and are not newsmakers per se. I often run and get tea for the extras and crew myself if everyone else is occupied. The team being so small made the work very strenuous but allowed for budgets to be utilized where they were needed most i.e. production design, equipment, etc.


Most of the actors in the film are unknown local artists from Lyari, Karachi and we are all outsiders in the established film industry. There was a lot of cynicism about whether we could pull this off. But we have.


Most of the actors in the film are unknown local artists from Lyari, Karachi and we are all outsiders in the established film industry. There was a lot of cynicism about whether we could pull this off. But we have. And now we can not wait to share our film with the people of Pakistan on Independence Day.

Despite a cast and crew that featured no big name, Shah has attracted investment from three major brands in Pakistan — Publicity
Despite a cast and crew that featured no big name, Shah has attracted investment from three major brands in Pakistan — Publicity

Dawn.com: Your cast consists of mostly new names. How did you find these actors? Do you all know each other?

Adnan: Kiran Chaudhry and I have known each other for years and have been band members in Club Caramel since 2006. Lyari has a very vibrant art scene with lots of youngsters making short films and a rich history of indie films. We connected with that community and selected most of our cast from there. For the boxing sequences, we worked with national level boxers whom we cast through boxing camps. All the boxing you will see on screen is real.

Dawn.com: Biopics often have intense soundtracks. What can you share about the music of the film at this point?

Adnan: The music for the film was written almost two years ago. Since I am a musician before anything else, writing the soundtrack was the part that excited me the most. We decided early on that the film will not have any item numbers, love songs, etc. There is only one song in the film and the rest of the music is quite different from what one is used to hearing in subcontinental films. Yes, 'intense' may just be the correct word to describe Shah's music.

Dawn.com: Getting three high-profile brands — Bank Alfalah, Pepsi and Samsung — to back your film is a big achievement. What about your film has attracted this investment, in your opinion?

Adnan: It's the idea. I mean, this film has no superstars in it, all of us being relative unknowns with virtually no big name attached to the film in any capacity be it in front or behind the camera. So it is indeed a massive achievement to have such powerful brands not just help fund the film but also to support us in promotion and advertising.

It is the idea of telling the story of a real Pakistani hero and to bring his amazing story to the people of our country after it was long forgotten. Not enough positive stories are being told about Pakistan. Once we set out to tell one of the thousands of amazing tales about inspirational Pakistanis, the first three brands we spoke to agreed to lend their full support. Cinema can have a profound impact on how a people views itself. We hope that our film will be a small step towards reminding Pakistanis who we really are, and what we can become.