A conversation with Adnan Sarwar – The man behind Shah

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Adnan Sarwar the man behind Shah
It doesn’t boast a million dollar budget, an international production team, a fancy shmancy cast , an aggressive marketing campaign , heck not even a promotional tour – yet the first look of Shah on social media was enough to get everybody talking about and geared up to seeing this biopic on cinema screens this 13th August. Finally, here was a film that was so deeply rooted in realism, had a subject matter that Pakistanis could relate to (and be proud of), a film that had the look & feel of a ‘film’ and an organic pull for people to buy cinema tickets regardless of the promotions.
With just 4 days slated to the release of the film, we spoke to Adnan Sarwar , the man behind the film who has worked tirelessly to bring this project together & make Shah a reality. We spoke to him of his personal journey (for those who don’t know who he is) , his look in the film (I remember meeting him back in Dec’14 and telling him you’ve lost a LOT of weight) , on Bollywood plans and his next project after Shah . Here’s what he had to say :
AWA : The trailer of Shah is extremely captivating and instills a nationalistic spirit very organically. What made you choose this storyline?
Adnan : I came very close to directing and acting in a rom-com feature back in 2012. However, I wanted Hussain Shah’s story to be my first project and I was able to steer the finances in this direction. One of my earliest memories in life is staying awake to watch his Olympic fights. I remember the hope he gave to Pakistan and the joy he brought to a nation otherwise reeling from a decade of political turmoil. Having spent many years as a struggling sportsperson myself, I have always personally related to his journey. The fact that he was forgotten after what he had achieved stayed with me and when the opportunity arose to be able to make a film, it was a clear choice.
Adnan Sarwar the man behind Shah
AWA : From being a Doctor in Australia to launching Club Caramel to ending up making films – tell us about the journey? Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
Adnan Sarwar the man behind Shah

Adnan Sarwar & Kiran Chaudhry back in Club Caramel days

Adnan : Medicine was just something I studied. My heart was never in it and I always knew I wanted to make a career in arts rather than medicine. As soon as I came back from Australia, I met Kiran Chaudhry and we started our music project. I knew then that films was where I ultimately wanted to be. My friends know me as an enthusiastic story teller and I have a passion for cinema. I believe cinema can have a profound impact on how a people views itself. Pakistani cinema can truly play an important part in the future of the country and where we go from here as a society. Ever since I returned to Pakistan, with my music and sports projects, I have been trying to contribute, in my own little way, towards the movement of creating a vibrant, positive and dynamic society. Being involved in the cinema helps me to reach a wider audience and that is what excites me the most about film making.
AWA: How was the journey of making a film like, with no prior experience in film-making?
Adnan: This was one of the toughest things I have had to do in my life, which is great because I like to be challenged. It was a steep learning curve especially since all six of us in our team are first time film makers working outside the perimeter of the established film industry. Our budget was next to nothing compared to everything else going on and we wanted to utilize all of that on production and equipment etc. So there was a lot of running around. We were all handling multiple jobs on set. This film would not have been possible without my team and if anything, all credit goes to them for pulling this one off.
 AWA: Who are your co-actors in the film. Was it intentional not to choose someone popular?
Adnan: No. It was due to budgetary constraints. We tried to rope in established actors but were unable to convince them since we were working on such a limited budget (Ours is a film with one of the lowest budgets in Pakistan this year)
AWA: The trailer has gotten great response and also ranks the highest amongst all upcoming Pakistani movies in a recent poll conducted by Express Tribune. Do you think Pakistani audiences are craving more variety in subject matter in movies?
Adnan: The response to the trailer has been mind boggling for us. It just goes to show that people are open to new ideas and a diversity of subject matter in movies especially when it comes to Pakistani cinema. We can not and must not emulate Bollywood. I’m not saying this because I have anything against Indian Cinema. I am actually a big fan and admirer of what they are doing across the border. However, the kind of budgets, human resource and training it is required to be able to successfully pull off what they do is simply not available to us right now. I am a fan of item numbers but Pakistani cinema should stay away from such things at this stage. Not due to any so-called morality issues but because we simply can not execute the same in a manner comparable to Bollywood. Rather than making a watered down versions of what is happening over there, we should be focusing on unique stories rooted in realism and offering audience an entirely different cinematic experience. Pakistani cinema should be to Bollywood what British cinema is to Hollywood, in my humble opinion.
AWA : You haven’t really marketed the film much or yourself before the trailer came out. Was this intentional ?
Adnan: No. It was not intentional. It’s just that we are not superstars and news makers at this stage and we had no money for promotional activities :) Things have changed since the trailer launch though and our brand partners and other stake holders are making sure that the film receives the right amount of visibility across all mediums.
AWA: Tell us about your look in the movie – what all went into the character that you are playing?
 Adnan Sarwar the man behind Shah
Adnan : First step was to learn boxing and to show Hussain Shah’s progress as a boxer as the story advances. So the fights were shot at different stages of my training to make sure his technical development from a street brawler to a world class boxer is visible.  I had to lose a lot of weight and muscle mass to get the emaciated homeless boxer look. At most fights, I weighed in at nearly 10 kilos less than my normal weight. Keeping the weight so low for so long was the toughest part. My day included boxing training, running, compound exercises and eating very little. I had to drastically cut down on my calorie intake and for someone who loves food as much as I do, it was very difficult.
AWA: So when do we see you in Bollywood ? wink wink
Adnan : I am not going to go seek out a place in Bollywood. That is never going to happen and it is not something which is on my personal wish list. My team and I have a solid plan for the next few years which revolves solely around Pakistani Cinema, made for release in Pakistan. However, if an opportunity ever presents itself and there is a role which I feel I would enjoy doing, I would love to work in India primarily because I think it would be a pleasure to work with such thorough professionals and it would be a great learning experience.
AWA: What’s your next project after Shah ?
Adnan : I am going to take a long vacation and work on the next screenplay. My team and I are all planning to reconvene in October 2015 to start working on our next feature which we will start shooting early next year and released in Summer 2016. I know exactly what the next film is going to be and I am very excited about bringing it to life.
AWA : Any concluding message for our readers?
Adnan: Chase your dreams with a vengeance no matter how wild and crazy they may sound to others. Follow your heart and believe in yourself. Do not let others’ perception of you, define who you are and make your own way. Everything else will fall into place.

Your comments?

  • Salma Nasir

    for some reasons I like this review better.. http://www.siddysays.com/shah-movie/

    • Anber

      Thanks Salma, but we have not done a movie review really, it was a pre-release interview with Adnan Sarwar so the readers can get to know about the project and the man behind it :)

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