“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Bollywood fan,” Adnan Sarwar immediately clears out his personal attitudes towards the big film industry that lives just across the border. “But we just can’t be them.”
Why does he say this? “We don’t have the budgets or the resources. We don’t have the years of experience. We don’t have the skill set.” Also, he thinks we are failing at producing good item numbers. “I love item numbers, but some of our heroines just can’t dance. They simply look awkward dancing and people will flock to see them right now because it’s new. What happens when that novelty factor runs out?”
Sarwar brutally addresses the fact that even though our film industry will have similarities with Bollywood, we need to have our own identity. “We are the edgier, hipster cousin,” says Sarwar, and films like Shah, Manto and Moor are headed towards the right direction in creating that brand name for ourselves.
Sarwar addresses a very important question, ‘Can cinema create identity?’ “Yes of course it can! Pakistan is suffering from an identity crisis right now! The American culture is hugely influence by Hollywood films. Their culture is shaped by films like Rocky and Top Gun and film is one of the most superior mediums of communication.” Sarwar wonders when our film industry is going to catch on to that thought. He isn’t suggesting all films to be serious or experimental though. “Zoya Akhtar is that perfect blend between commercial films and festival worthy films. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was so entertaining to watch but look at the way it was made!” If we want to take inspiration from across the border, it should be from films like these, Sarwar adds.
Pakistan should try to make its cinema more intelligent. “To me, intelligent cinema is when you say something but it doesn’t look like you’re preaching. In Pakistan, people will put all our social issues in one film, with one long monologue at the end. That’s not an intelligent way to make a film at all.”
Sarwar can put his money where his mouth is because his own production, Shah, got raving reviews from critics and cinema goers alike, even though the film had an extremely small budget to work with. Sarwar has had no proper training and did not go to any film school, “I watch a lot of movies and from an early age, I was very fond of reading screenplays of films after watching them to see how they were able to transfer the screenplay on to the screen.”
Currently, the actor/director is working on another film which is also bound to make waves in Pakistan as it is addressing another pressing concern of the country: female empowerment. “It’s going to be unusual because there is no male lead in the film. It’s about a very young girl who is living her life in a manner that is very strange and provocative for our society.”
Sarwar feels that he is able to add soul in his work because he takes inspiration from his personal life. “I grew up with very strong women around me. This is why this film is very close to me.” Sarwar’s earlier production, Shah, also took inspiration from a time in his life when he struggled with financial constraints. “There is a scene in Shah where he is sleeping on a bench; that is taken from my life where I actually slept on a bench on the road for three days straight because my landlord had thrown me out and I had nowhere else to go.”
Perhaps his personal struggles have also made him very aware of his role in society, as he also believes in giving back. Sarwar gave a large portion of his earnings to Hussain Shah, the boxer whose life the film is based on. “I have a long term plan to create a brand. Adnan Sarwar films will be a certain type of films, where you learn something and also feel entertained. I won’t break the box office but I’m okay with that.”