Pakistan’s new wave of cinema has brought forth many enterprising new filmmakers, however, only a few have managed to consistently deliver projects that have been able to arouse audience interest and create a positive buzz among industry observers at the same time. The list whittles down even further when one takes the preceding two years into account, during which the exhibition circuit has been lying comatose due to the pandemic. Adnan Sarwar, the filmmaker behind Shah and Motorcycle Girl has during this period of lull come up with two exciting projects — the ARY Digital telefilm Aik Hai Nigar and the web series Baarwan Khiladi.
“This project is the brainchild of producer Nina Kashif and writer Umera Ahmad. They brought the project to me, and I liked the story,” says Sarwar as I query him about impelled him towards directing Aik Hai Nigar. “Nigar Johar is the first female surgeon general of Pakistan, and for a woman in a country like Pakistan to rise through the ranks and overcome a personal tragedy at the same time — I mean, what a great story. There was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity to helm the project,” he added, emphasizing that “I am drawn to stories of strong women and human stories and this had a bit of both. And then in Pakistan, in our context, the stories are a lot more remarkable.”
We have seen quite a few inspirational films over the years, I counter him. What exactly is Aik Hai Nigar’s USP, why should audiences be watching it? “No matter what we project in the media we know the condition of women’s rights in this country, we see it and experience it every day through our mothers and sisters and friends. So any story that brings a different perspective — a real perspective and not a managed, polished perspective that wreaks of propaganda, will surely attract the audience’s attention.” He believes cinema continues to be a potent medium for catalyzing positive social changes. “Motorcycle Girl I feel changed a lot in this country, silently, without stepping on any toes. As an example, now when I am driving, I see many women on their own bikes, and oftentimes people will even take photos (of women on bikes) and tag me. So I think we have played a little part in this silent revolution that is going on. Similarly, when a young girl sees Aik Hai Nigar she will say I can do this too — such stories usually inspire people.” However, he remains quite grounded in his ambitions. “I am not out there to stage a revolution, but I would like to know that I have made a difference in my own little way, and for the kind of society I would like to see.”
Adnan Sarwar has now directed the most experienced actors in the country, as well as newcomers. Does he have a preference? “Everyone brings their own magic to the screen. Working with seasoned actors — someone like Mahira who has a decade worth of experience behind her and then such a delight to work with because she brings so much experience to the set. With the younger lot, it is a different kind of an experience, taking them through the motions of what it’s like to perform in front of the camera is an interesting experience in its unique way. So, there is no preference really,” he states, asserting “My focus is always on the story, the script, and the content, not who is in front of the camera. Having said that, it is quite remarkable to have someone in front of the camera who has years and years of experience. It’s quite extraordinary.”
Talking about content, some would argue that Sarwar’s last two films belong to the ‘hatke’ camp. Would he also like to direct a masala film at some point? “Of course I would like to do a regular, commercial film, but I would do it my own way, I am not going to be following any pre-set template. Commercial cinema is a great medium in itself for entertainment however my kind of commercial film will have substance, and of course and my own voice. And then, what constitutes commercial cinema is in itself a matter of perspective — all of my previous films have made money, they were profitable for the makers, so they did resonate with the audience and were financially viable.”
The last two years have seen the industry go through a comatose phase. How does he see Pakistani cinema developing going forth, in a few years? “It is difficult to sustain an industry on just 100 screens — however, I see a lot of new developments, a lot of progress being made on the digital end. At the same time, having films from across the border will surely be a boost for the exhibition sector and in turn our own industry.” He also believes the country’s cinema “does not exist in isolation” and that it would have to follow the simultaneous theatrical and digital release pattern taking over the globe currently, at some point in the near future.
I pose the inevitable question about the release of Baarwan Khiladi, which many fans are eager to watch. “TapMad TV definitely has a release strategy planned for Baarwan Khiladi and they are following that. The show should release this year,” he says.
Here’s wishing Adnan Sarwar all the best for Aik Hai Nigar and Baarwan Khiladi. Stay tuned to PakistaniCinema.net for the latest on these exciting projects!