You can’t deny that only cricket unites a divided nation like Pakistan. It gives us something to fist-pump and cheer for — the dream of a victory. A film like Main Hoon Shahid Afridi somewhat does justice to our obsession with cricket. But does it aptly portray the stature of poster boy Boom Boom himself? Not really.
The captain of Pakistani team Akbar Deen (Humayun Saaed) becomes a national disgrace when police in Dubai discover him intoxicated and in the possession of drugs in his hotel room. He is banned from the cricket arena and disowned by his lower middle-class elderly parents, wife (Mahnoor Baloch) and young son for bringing shame to the family.
Fast forward 15 years later. A small cricket club in Sialkot is in desperate need of a coach to prepare it for a local cricket competition. Enter Deen. From here on, the journey for Deen and Shahid Bhatti — the talented but raw cricket-loving youth who hopes to become the next Shahid Afridi — begins. But it is an unbalanced story between Deen and Shahid’s professional and personal life as they prepare to win the cup.
The younger lot of actors deserves special mention; individually and collectively, they take attention away from senior cast members. Noman Habib as Shahid is so immersed in his character that it often seems he is playing his natural self. Add a bit of Gohar Rasheed to his screen space and they give you one of the most immaculate chemistries on screen. Shafqat Cheema as Bhatti sahab is as impactful as always and Ismail Tara is a source of occasional humour with his animated portrayal of Chotay Malik sahab.
The biggest disappointment of the film is Humayun Saaed. Almost like the Voice of God in Hollywood movies, Saeed as Deen appears wherever he wants and however he likes — in his colourful Nike jackets and tracks or jeans (the idea of wearing jeans to training sessions is beyond us). He delivers his lines with monotony, leaving you to decipher the meaning of every spoken word. Whether it’s a serious discussion with Cheema or an intimate scene with Baloch, the mechanical consistency of his expressions is almost miraculous; just before the climax, he literally flies in an action sequence — a funny moment not to be missed. Sexy Mahnoor Baloch makes an appearance with limited scenes, whereas director Osama fails to capitalise on the potential of Javed Sheikh and Nadeem Baig.
Here’s the good news. No matter how done to death the story is, the dialogues stand out. Kudos to Vasay Chaudhry for some hilarious one-liners. One memorable moment is when the religious Pathan team-member (Hamza Ali Abbasi) refuses to play the match alongside a Christian player and someone pipes up, “Match khelna hai — milaad pae nahin jana”.
Areas that need work are choreography, which is pretty naïve, and the over-dramatised ‘party scene’ which is needlessly vulgar in places. Stylistically, the film is below average compared to other recent Pakistani releases. Most montages seem to be forced into the narrative just to try something ‘different’. Excessively bleached colour grading at places too seems without purpose. Logically, when the emotional pre-final match visit to Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi was shown, one wonders why the match itself was played at the Moin Khan Academy instead of the National Stadium. The cricket shots, the essence of any film on cricket, are executed half- heartedly and without finesse.
The film makes a conscious effort to send out a positive message. It attempts to manufacture a ‘Great Pakistani Dream’, where individuals unite and fight for something irrespective of religion and ethnicity. It is heartwarming, but the director relies on a bucket full of stereotypes and childish narratives to convey it. For this very reason, the Christian wicket keeper (Michael Magnet) is selected in a beautiful church and always carries a cross in hand. The ‘maulana’ pacer is never seen without his keffiyeh and rosary as accessories. Here, we missed the kind of research we saw in Imran Yusuf’s cricket play Stumped.
From the item song to the dance sequences at ‘parties’ that look more like a glorified version of contemporary mehendis, MHSA is following the Bollywood formula, in that it is aiming for a wider audience. While it will undoubtedly make a considerable box office return and be successful commercially, aesthetically it is nothing more than a ‘Made in China’ version of a B-grade Bollywood film.
MHSA is a film that has its heart in the right place but no soul. Do watch it to support Pakistani cinema but don’t be surprised if you get fed up of its pretense to achieve something larger than life.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2013.
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