KARACHI : Adnan Sarwar’s Motorcycle Girl releases on April 20, bringing a real-life story to the big screen. The film is based on Zenith Irfan – the first female biker to take a solo journey across Pakistan’s northern areas and stars Sohai Ali Abro as her.
The Express Tribune caught up with both to discuss Zenith’s desire to fulfill her father’s dream and the latter’s preparations to translate her story for the world to see.
Zenith admitted she never expected to see the day a film would be made on her. “We never imagined this would happen. I wish my father was here to see all this,” she said. “It feels like I have a certain responsibility now. I have to project Pakistan in a positive light. When a film is made about you, people look up to you. As a Pakistani woman, I feel more responsible now.”
The motorcyclist recalled the one phone call from Adnan wherein she was told that Sohai would be playing her role in Motorcycle Girl. “At first, I wasn’t sure because Sohai is so different and lively and I’m more of an introvert. But when I met her, I was surprised due to her humility,” shared Zenith. “I told Sohai I was nervous about the film. She said she was nervous too but that she would try her best. It’s Adnan’s magic that he saw her as Chanda (Irfan’s nickname).”
Sohai revealed there was a lot of pressure to do justice to the story. “It’s a huge responsibility! It’s my first time being in a biopic and I’ve tried my level best,” said the Jawani Phir Nahi Ani starlet. “There is proof and a record of everything that happened and we wanted to keep the story as close to the reality as possible. We wanted to keep Zenith’s essence in the film.”
According to Sohai, her first meeting with Zenith was brief but they got along instantly. “She’s my kind of a girl. She has an opinion, is vocal about it, and is comfortable with herself. She doesn’t care about what people say and I’m very similar to that. Zenith is feisty!”
The actor believes they connected because they have had similar journeys. “Zenith and I have a lot of things in common. Both our fathers passed away when we were young and we have been the breadwinners for our families. You change as a person when you have to take on this responsibility at such a young age. We could relate to each other and genuinely became friends,” Sohai said.
“It wasn’t like ‘I’m here to study you.’ Obviously, it was my job to do so but I didn’t treat Zenith as an object to replicate. The process occurred organically.” Sohai also admitted that working Motorcycle Girl made her wonder what her own father would’ve wanted her to do as well.
Of course, learning how to ride a bike was a big challenge for Sohai. “Just being on the bike and trying to learn that monster was initially uncomfortable. Hot weather, people staring at you and even recognising you, was all part of it but I enjoyed the process,” she claimed. “It really changed me as a person. When they say riding a bike is a liberating experience, it actually is.”
But Sohai’s process of playing Irfan wasn’t just limited to the bike: She had to put on weight because Adnan didn’t want her to look like a “glamorous biker chick.” Moreover, she often had to revert to Zenith’s Facebook page and blogs to examine how she wrote and spoke. “I stalked Zenith for a year. I’d be all over her social media, watch her videos, observe her body language and everything. What I really like is the way she talks – it’s mellow and gentle. I love her voice.”
So what made Sohai decide to do Motorcycle Girl? Apparently, it was the reason why Zenith undertook the journey in the first place: to fulfill her father’s dream. “I said that was it and decided to do the film. I wanted to be a part of it and tell this story to the world.”
Zenith, on the other hand, clarified, “People have a misperception that I did it for women empowerment and other reasons. Those were, indeed, there somewhere but most importantly, I did it for my father. It was his dream. And we shouldn’t associate gender with passion.”
Asked what he would think, had her father been alive to watch Motorcycle Girl, Irfan responded, “Maybe the film wouldn’t be made or it’d be a completely different story. He could have been in the film too. We would ride together! He has left the gift of his dream to me now.”
For Zenith, the biggest challenge was fear. “A motorcycle is the most dangerous ride! I had to learn it and face the ever-changing weather,” she revealed. “But it’s all about the focus. The picture of my father in my wallet and the smile of a little village girl kept me going. The love of the Pakistani people kept me going. I knew I can’t let them down.”
Sohai described working with Adnan as an “enriching” experience. “I think I have explored a different dimension of acting in Motorcycle Girl – one I had never done before,” she said of the Shah film-maker, adding that just a few years ago, no one was willing to make a film like this.
“They thought no one would watch a women-centric film but now things have changed. Women are out there and the conversation is happening. Women want to have a voice and they want to see something like Motorcycle Girl. At least, finally, female actors are being trusted to carry a film on their own.”
Asked why she feels Adnan cast her, Sohai narrated a recent incident. “After the trailer came out, we were talking on the phone and he said, ‘Champ, thank you. Thank you for being you.’ I told him it was I who should be thanking him for Motorcycle Girl, although I believe the film is so honest it would work regardless of my being in it,” she shared.
“But Adnan said, ‘No, this was written for you and only you could have played this.’ Even during the filming, he made me believe Motorcycle Girl was meant for me.”
Zenith is yet to complete her studies but already planning an all-Pakistan bike tour someday. In fact, she wants to travel the world on her bike. “In other countries, there are people who go for cause rides with support from NGOs and different charities. I want to do the same,” she said. Sohai, in the meantime, hopes Motorcycle Girl will pave the way for intelligent cinema in Pakistan.
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