Main Hoon Shahid Afridi manages to teleport you into the everyday life of Sialkot. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Main Hoon Shahid Afridi manages to teleport you into the everyday life of Sialkot. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Syed Ali Raza could easily have wanted Main Hoon Shahid Afridi to become mindless entertainment, but he chose not to. Abhishek Mukherjee explains why.

The fact that it took me over a year to watch Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (I Am Shahid Afridi) is probably an indication of the reach of Pakistani movies (Lollywood or otherwise) in India. Maybe there was a release, but almost nobody got to of it — at least not in Kolkata, where I was based out of back then.

You occasionally get to know of the technical brilliance of Waar or come across path-breakers like Khuda Kay Liye (a must-watch for any fan of the art), but that is usually about it. It actually took me a casual stroll on Afridi’s Wikipedia page to come across the name.

The movie could well have been made in Bollywood. Regular Bolly-watchers will probably smile at the familiar face of Javed Shaikh, but the rest of the cast is relatively unknown in India. Parts of the story are predictable: a near-broke club of underdogs from Sialkot taking on a team of rich, privileged champions from Islamabad in the final; a youth, aspiring to emulate a famous star; a boy’s struggles to reach his dream despite his family’s financial crisis; a shunned cricketer’s (following a drug scandal) return as coach of a struggling team; and more.

Where Main Hoon Shahid Afridi scores over many other sports movies is in the joy it evokes. Despite everyone knowing exactly what the climax would be (or even what is lurking at every corner of the movie), it never fails to bring a smile to your face. There are some fantastic names as well (how about Michael Magnet for someone very good with his glovework or a tearaway fast bowler nicknamed — of course, that is not his real name — Kaali Aandhi?)

There are clichés (the Caucasian is evil, to begin with), yes, but there are topics that would make the knowledgeable smile. A Club, for starters, is called MCC. When Akbar, the coach asks the hard-hitting Shahid Bhatti (basically the wannabe Shahid Afridi) is asked to bowl like Afridi as well, he gives Shahid an apple. When asked for the reason, he mentions Abdul Qadir, who had given Shane Warne the same bit of advice when it came to practicing the googly.

When the rich (hence evil) side makes their first appearance, they inevitably do so in a chopper, and you are instantly reminded of Allen Sanford landing on a helicopter in Lord’s. When Akbar spots a potential wicket-keeper, he wonders whether he will be a Moin Khan or a Kamran Akmal, and when the ’keeper passes with flying colours, well, you already know what Akbar comments.

Annotations are aplenty, and almost every aspect of Pakistan cricket is being mentioned. English accents of Pakistan cricketers; the usual jokes revolving around the authenticity of ages of players; Javed Miandad at Sharjah; Sania Mirza; and heated showdowns inside dressing-rooms. Other issues are also touched upon — including biased umpiring and fast bowlers on dope.

There is more about the movie, though. Being outside Pakistan, always had vivid images of fast bowlers emerging from every nook and corner of Pakistan, running in to bowl in salwar-kameez and generating pace from a few steps. Cricket, especially bowling fast, comes naturally to them, and is as much a part of their lives as it is in India or Bangladesh. Syed Ali Raza portrays that beautifully.

Main Hoon Shahid Afridi manages to teleport you into the everyday life of Sialkot, the capital of sport equipment in Pakistan. It takes you through the economic issues, the still-prevalent problems of dowry, and the joy of playing cricket. Cricket, after all, is the force that has held countries, especially in the subcontinent, together — even during phases of crisis, financial or otherwise.

Of course, there are cons: though the individual performances are restrained when compared to the usual Lollywood movie, they could have been better; the matches, including the final, could have been described in details; and a couple of “item-songs” could have been left out of the movie altogether.

The movie is definitely worth a watch. Do not expect a Khuda Kay Liye when you get the DVD — Main Hoon Shahid Afridi is not supposed to be a gut-wrenching saga of terrorism, after all; watch the movie for the joy of watching the sport; watch it for the triumph of cricket over life.

Oh, guess who turns up himself at the end of the movie for a special surprise? You have guessed that from the name of the movie itself, have you not?

Director: Syed Ali Raza Usama
Producer: Humayun Saeed, Shahzad Nasib
Starring: Humayun Saeed, Noman Habib, Nadeem Baig, Javed Shaikh, Ainan Arif.
Music and lyrics: Shani-Kami.
Duration: 130 minutes.
Release date: August 23, 2013.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)