The post is the unedited copy of the review published in Mag the Weekly, August 28, 2015 (online link is put up a week after publication).
Stings Like A Bee — Well, ‘Almost’
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
Picture this: a young boy, homeless yet hardworking in Lyari, who calls out his name in broad-shouldered brogue (as others comment on how strong the name is), finds his calling for boxing after being beaten out of his hard-earned money.
Without much of a shed to live in – or proper training gear – he excels in the sport in underground fights (where he makes fifty rupees per bout), and ends up being selected for the Pakistani boxing team (for two hundred rupees per month), and then winds up winning a string of hard-earned international matches for the next few years (again, without proper training gear or accessories – damn you Pakistan Sports Board!), culminating with a Bronze medal win at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul as the first, and only Pakistani to win an accolade until recent years.
On his arrival, Shah is applauded with a Sitara-e-Imtiyaz, promptly retired from boxing with a compensation of twenty thousand rupees (and subsequently two 80 square yard plots), and is forced back to poverty stricken, and ultimately homeless days. That is, by a stroke of luck, he gets an opportunity to migrate from Pakistan to England, and then Japan, where his talents are appreciated, despite his lack of language skills.
The story in Adnan Sarwar’s directorial debut – almost all of it true – is a genuine rags to rags tale, that’s horribly real, because, like it or not, living in Pakistan (or at least, having lived in the one depicted in the past) we’ve all seen a variation of this tale happen with or around us at some time. It is a fable, both sad and authentic, that automatically writes itself, and at its least holds international fame status as far as films go.
Actually, make that: held the promise of garnering international fame.
The version depicted in Sarwar’s film hits like an emotional sledgehammer made out of rubber (the cheap kind). Its authenticity is mired by its amateurish direction, featureless dialogues and an untrimmed edit (almost every scene can be hemmed here and there, notes this critic’s eye). The music pop’s-up a beat after it’s supposed to, the main plot – about a newly hired woman reporter (played by Kiran Chaudhry) – is left without closure, and the boxing matches – the highlight of any filmed biography of a boxer (actual or factual) – are weakly captured by the lens. One also gets the feeling that – a) either the scenes were shot without proper exposure, or b) the color grade (done at Sharp Image) was the work of an amateur (for the grading guy, I’d like to point out to a thing called color scopes and RGB parade, found in any professional software).
This lack of zeal is counteracted by Sarwar (as Shah) and Gulab Chandio’s fine performance (who, by the way, is a tad old-TV theatrical at times), and the somewhat low-budget saving grace of the production design.
Shah is an honest description of a man Sarwar depicts with barebones dimension – a scrupulous citizen who is kept in-check by his impecuniousness; he never sees a dime of his salary while working as a professional boxer (damn you again, Pakistan Sports Board!), and the twenty thousand he does get as a reward is quickly traded to clear paperwork on his non-existing land.
Shah also doesn’t have a love life (the screenplay, also by Sarwar, doesn’t swindle-in a romantic interlude for ‘adaptation’ sake), though in one scene he does long for a wife and some measure of normalcy. It’s hard not feeling anything for the man on-screen, and I guess a round of applause is mandatory for Sarwar’s pursuit of a story that may have remained untold – like so many others.
In one particular instance, Adnan gracefully brings out attention to the 1992 World Cup, and the then-Prime Minister’s cash prize announcement of two million rupees per player, (and Imran Khan’s announcement of starting Shaukhat Khanum hospital and the plans to not enter politics) – the news plays out on the television as Shah eats stale roti with onions (the shot, though is ruined by badly placed fade outs).
The production, though not shot “Like a butterfly”, definitely “stings like a bee”; a small bee, but a bee nonetheless.
Published copy looks like this: