Main Hoon Shahid Afridi September 21, 2013

Masala goes Boom Boom

An unabashedly populist new potboiler uses cricket to offer a window into modern Pakistan

Recently, I was part of a discussion on films and cricket, and whether a successful confluence of the two was possible. The venerable Sam Collins had most of us agreeing when he pointed out that a major obstacle was the fact that sport regularly provided the sort of implausible scenarios that would come across as trite if scripted. Ashton Agar's 98 on debut from No. 11 in the Ashes was one such example. My own feeling was that, in addition, the viewer's experience would be let down by a cinematic approach to depicting the game, particularly the use of sound effects and gameplay.

In that sense, it is plausible that masala films would provide the most agreeable paradigm for cinematically translating cricket. Referred to as masala for their mixture of genres (action and comedy and romance and drama), such films are part of a greater tradition of oral narrative. Think epics with linear plots, comedic and musical tangents, simple good v evil dynamics, happy endings.

Originally looked down upon by intellectuals, masala films with their populism and mass appeal are now embraced and celebrated thanks to post-modernism. In the context of cricket and films, this means that an over-the-top storyline, bombastic characters and sounds, as well as a sickeningly saccharine resolution would be expected rather than dreaded. After all, the ultimate aim of any masala film is to entertain the public. (Gee, I wonder who that reminds us of?)

Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (I am Shahid Afridi) is a story of an underdog team's rise against the backdrop of a fictional domestic cricket tournament in Pakistan. It revolves principally around Akbar Deen, a former international cricketer seeking redemption after a UAE drugs scandal left him shunned. He is the reluctant coach of the Sialkot Shaheens, owned by the hilarious yet lovable Malick Khalid, and led by Shahid Bhatti - an amateur cricketer hoping to become Boom Boom. Pitted against them is the magnificently Modi/Packer/Stanford-esque Mian Asif, who owns the Islamabad Hunters - a team of boys from the "elite ruling class". Mian Asif, in the first of a million twists, is also Akbar's father-in-law.

As a film, MHSA is quite ludicrous in its construction. Despite a street-smart score and decent soundtrack, the remarkably funny and sharp dialogue is recorded in a way as to make it seem to belong to an error-strewn student film. The colour correction is similarly jarring, displaying as much logic as a typical Afridi innings, often completely changing tones mid-scene. And even making allowances for the masala format, many of the plot lines are lazily developed and hastily resolved. Nevertheless the depleted nature of Pakistani cinema's intellectual, technical and financial resources requests, if not demands, a level of charitableness in opinion.

To be a successful masala film, MHSA required an underlying fantasy; the earliest masala films were about mythological tales. In Pakistan during the past few decades, the local film industry saw its fortunes dwindle, but blindly held onto the once-popular but increasingly irrelevant gandasa-wielding badmaash formula, based on violent rural revenge fantasies. The genius behind MHSA, in contrast, is its expropriation of cricket as the overarching source of the fantasy on which its plot is based, a relatively unprecedented approach in mainstream Pakistani cinema.

The requisite good v evil narrative of every masala film is provided in MHSA by the class differences - rather than regional, ethnic or religious ones - with the rich Islamabad Hunters players being "gentlemen who will speak and talk to foreigners without feeling insecure".

In contrast, the Sialkot Shaheens are all working-class ruffians who have little other than their dreams. There are numerous father-son conflicts throughout the plot, which are resolved through the traditional miracle-of-god* and tears-of-mother approach, but also through cricket. The game exists as one of the archetypes upon which the film's moral universe rests.

In fact, cricket completely permeates the film. Crooked umpires, Martin Crowe's 1992 World Cup strategies, dressing-room bust-ups, on-field bust-ups, press conference bust-ups, Shoaib and Sania, the street-urchin-turned-Test-star, IPL parties, fast bowlers on PEDs, Allen Stanford's helicopter at Lord's, Kamran Akmal's keeping, Qadir teaching Warne how to bowl a googly with an apple, the MCC (Malik Cricket Club), Miandad at Sharjah, post-match interviews in English, over-age players in a U-19 side, bitchy journalists, old Pepsi ads with Imran and the two Ws - the film is jam-packed with cricket references, woven into a populist, aspirational story.

In being such, the film offers a window into Pakistan; a window only as true as an Afridi hoick that ends up over cover for six, but a window nevertheless that shows a Pakistani identity far more endearing and relatable than the infinite attempts made post 9/11 by the media, and in literature and film.

To use a cliché when it is finally due, MHSA is a truly "mercurial" film.

*(It actually rains right at the very moment the cocky Australian coach of the Hunters mocks the Shaheens with the immortal line: "Ab kahan hai tumhara khuda? Where is your God now?")

Main Hoon Shahid Afridi
Dir: Syed Ali Raza Usama
Starring: Hamza Abbasi, Mohammad Ahmad, Ainan Arif

Ahmer Naqvi is a journalist, writer and teacher. He writes on cricket for various publications, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2013, 5:25 GMT

    This article shows Boom Boom Afridi is one of the most famous Cricketer in the world!!!

  • Dummy4 on September 24, 2013, 2:56 GMT

    @Omer Ayaz Say what you feel like, but Shahid Afridi is the only cricketer in Pakistan side that fills the stadium whatever part of the world he goes. Count the number of leagues he plays or played. England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India. Was even offered in West Indies. People actually pay money to buy tickets to see him. You can not say this for any other Pakistan cricketer.

  • Asim on September 22, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    @Joshmon. I completely disagree that Afridi is the reason of pakistans batting failure but i think its the opposite.If people were following Afridi than they would have try to hit every ball but most batsmen pakistan have today are blockers who just keep blocking and the get out and thats the reason for pakistan failure.pak team is lacking aggression which is oppsite to Afridis way.Anyway no need to be jealous of Afridis popularity bcse he is one of the most famous cricketers by pakistan.Those people can wait to see if someone makes a movie men hon tuk tuk misbah :) and then like it.

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2013, 11:00 GMT

    hard to believe that there is a movie on a guy who hardly have performed when it mattered, has played over 350 ODI's just based on one century, And other more talented players have missed out on getting a chance bcz of him...just shows where Pak cricket is today!

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2013, 7:40 GMT

    It was certainly entertaining, I do not remember getting bored even though the execution of the movie could have been better.

  • Vikas on September 22, 2013, 0:09 GMT

    Afridi is a lovable cricketer if he cuts down on his trash talk and his fickleness

  • Nicholas on September 21, 2013, 21:10 GMT

    Ahmad 33... 'not what you think it he is'... Explain?!

  • Mani on September 21, 2013, 19:05 GMT

    Humayun Saeed's 'Main hoon Shahrukh Khan'. I mean ''Main hoon Shahid Afridi''. A poor mans Bollywood film. High on formula, low on creativity. Perhaps the blogger can analyze why 'the depleted nature of Pakistani cinema's intellectual, technical and financial resources' exist in the first place. The answer may lie in his blog. All I know is I want my time and money back.

  • Muhammad on September 21, 2013, 16:45 GMT

    Even a month after the release, there are housefull shows of the film, witnessed last weekend!

  • Dummy4 on September 21, 2013, 15:27 GMT

    @Beenod Beknowthe , this film is currently only released in pakistan, whether it will be released worldwide is still not clear. the only chance to watch it for a person outside pakistan is to wait till it is released on dvd.

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