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KNOCKING OUT ONE PUNCH AT A TIME
Adnan Sarwar
by SIDRA KHAN
05 - 11 Sept, 2015
#content
KNOCKING OUT ONE PUNCH AT A TIME

He directed, produced, acted, composed music and wrote the screenplay for his first movie. From formula racing to being a medical practitioner in Australia, Adnan Sarwar has done it all. As I entered his room, I felt deeply intimidated by all that I knew about him and was quite excited to meet the over-night star. But Adnan acts like he is anything but one. He had just woken up, trying to make up for all the lost sleep and calmly sat on a chair next to the window in his tee, sipping coffee. We laughed about his hesitation to give an interview for fear of being misquoted before I started on the difficult task of figuring out the man of the hour, “I tried to rope in a few actors because I wanted to direct and produce the film. But good actors come with a good price tag. No one believed in the project and got further discouraged when they found out that the budget of the film was close to nothing. So I sat down with my team and they suggested that I do the role. Initially, I had no choice but to do it; later, I started having fun. I realised I am quite good at it. I knew I could act,” it would have been hard to believe had he said he never thought about it. He told me that the people he had hoped would be a part of this project had refused in the very beginning. Only then did he figure that he will have to look for people like him; full of talent and passion. “It is a debut film for many – my cinematographers, editor, art director and production manager. We have never even done a play. My cinematographers are actually wedding videographers. I saw their work and invited them on board.”
One cannot help but wonder why Adnan would take up such a challenge when he could have easily made a commercial movie first so that he could have a strong financial backing for this project. But there is a reason why this movie has gotten the love and support that it has without any help – it is different.
“I never did what everyone else was doing. I could have easily done a rom-com back in 2012. But in my heart I knew this had to be my first project,” he continues in admiration of the boxer, “Hussain Shah was my childhood hero. I used to stay up late to watch his matches in Seoul. So his story stuck with me throughout the years and as soon as I could gather some money, I wanted to start working on this. Everyone is making commercial movies, but I felt the people of Pakistan needed to see this and reminded of who Hussain Shah is.” The boxer who won a bronze medal in Olympics for Pakistan in 1988 is one of the many forgotten, and sadly, mistreated heroes of the country. It wasn’t until he got invited to Japan to coach boxers that his life really changed. “I called him up and told him everything that I had planned and he started crying. I turned on the recorder and asked him to tell me everything about his life. We talked for about three days after which I turned all that I had into a 120-minute screenplay.” But that was merely the start. A lot more went into Shah and to make Adnan look believable on-screen. Before the shooting started, the reel life Shah was a whopping 10-12 kilos overweight. The real Shah was a homeless resident of Lyari who used to eat naan and pakoray. “I knew it would kill me; it wasn’t just any character, it was a boxer. So the first thing I had to do was drop all the muscle and fat on my body. In the beginning, I used to pass out on the set,” he tried to explain, “I am a Lahori; I love to eat but I had to follow that diet for almost two years. It was the toughest thing even though I have done some really crazy things,” he laughed. The most difficult part though must have been the fight sequences. The team had some original footage of the 1988 Seoul fight that they studied to recreate the fight, frame by frame. Anyone who has seen the original video and the movie can easily tell how good a job they have done because the two are almost indiscernible.
“Looking back, I don’t think anyone could have done the role better than I did and put in so much sweat and blood.” He told me his trainers think that he is ready to fight professionally too, but has absolutely no interest in boxing whatsoever.
The movie has seen its fair share of ups and downs during production. For one, it wasn’t made in a matter of mere months. The shooting was done intermittently because they had no money. The team of five people was on a small salary back then and it still is, and has decided to hold up the celebrations up until the box office tells them where they stand. I asked him about the first time he met Hussain Shah at the premiere of the movie. “It was pure magic. I had lived this man’s life, even spent a few nights in slums just to get the feel of things. For him, it was like watching his life all over again and doing justice to it was a huge responsibility,” he added. “Our journeys, struggles and triumphs coincided at that moment. We hugged and cried and it wasn’t us alone, it was everyone there.”
A true patriot himself, Adnan had a clear idea in his mind from the beginning regarding what he wanted to achieve through his project. “It was my intention to promote true patriotism rather than rapid hyper nationalism. What this man did is how you really love your country not through empty slogans. The fact that we saw people applauding and crying has been proof enough.” He looks back at the last two years of his life as a learning experience. A month ago, Shah was the destination for him; today it is just the first step.
One thing he vows against is setting the deadline beforehand. “We were working against the clock because we had declared the release date ahead of finishing the movie. We were still finalising things just 24 hours before its release. For me, it is still incomplete. But the fact that it is flawed and fragile is what makes it so beautiful,” says the charmer. Even though the movie seems to be doing good on its own, he feels disappointed about inefficient marketing, but believes that distributors and cinema owners are equally if not more responsible for the success of a local film.
“Local cinema takes preference everywhere. Our government has not put any tax on us which is phenomenal but just to see whether the movie has potential, we should be given a preferential treatment on the opening weekend,” he clarified, “If you give an international movie 300 screens and only 100 for a domestic one, you cannot complain about local movies not making business. The cinemas give us an early morning show while an Indian or Hollywood movie is given an evening slot, with this unfair treatment how can you say that local movies are not in demand?”
He is more hopeful for his future projects though. His next venture will have a lot of dhoom dharakka in it and the multi-talented man has ideas for two more biopics in line. He refused to share anything other than the fact that one of them will feature a woman in the lead and teased that he would not share more until he has acquired life rights for both. For now, Adnan intends to take a vacation to figure out what his plans are for the next 12-18 months. •


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