Adnan Sarwar makes films with only one purpose in mind: to give audiences a good watch.
The actor/director's second feature film Motorcycle Girl starring Sohai Ali Abro and Ali Kazmi is set to hit screens on April 20 and although it is inspired by the true story of Zenith Irfan -- the first Pakistani female believed to have made a solo motorcycle journey through the country's north -- he explains that his film is essentially a fictionalised tale and has not been produced to bring about groundbreaking change in society.
"It’s a father-daughter story. The core essence of the film is that a little girl knew her father had a dream to travel on his motorcycle and she started riding to different areas to fulfill her father’s dream; to connect with him somehow. That for me is the film," says Adnan when I ask how true to life his directorial is.
"Obviously Zenith has never been engaged or married (like shown in the trailer). I said this is a heavily fictionalised account. Did she go with 10 bikers or 20 bikers? I don’t know, I don’t care. I’m not a documentary filmmaker."
He says that a biopic is always framed as "inspired by certain true events," because filmmakers take liberties with the events that took place in a subject's real life. "We take the essence of what happened, certain things you omit. When we were making Shah we had to change the storyline as per the request of his family. We make fictional films based on true stories or a true event, we are not documentary filmmakers. That’s not my responsibility; it’s somebody else’s onus, not mine."
Due to this reason, Adnan made sure Zenith's role in the filmmaking process was minimal.
"I asked Sohai to spend some time with her but not too much. I didn’t want Sohai to completely copy a person, but we did get a lot of guidance from Zenith. We used a lot of her footage that is available online and a lot of her pictures to recreate exact scenes [from the] pictures that she put online, for me that’s very special," he says excitedly as he delves into details. "The same earrings, the same bag, the poses, the gears she used; we tried to emulate that a lot."
For someone like Sohai who didn't know how to ride a bicycle, those six months of motorcycle training paid off. Adnan tells me that 80 percent of the bike scenes were done by the actor, while the remaining were shot using a stunt double.
"We only have one scene for which we had to use a stunt double because no production would put their lead actor in that situation, although she was willing to do it."
The director tells me that Zenith even gave the actor her first ever bike ride. It was about "getting Sohai in the mind frame of a biker from a female perspective... research of the story, what happened with the father, somebody you’ve never met, what is their desire to connect with somebody you’ve never met. That became the crux of the character as well as the film and for me that’s why this film exists."
I wonder whether Adnan feels compelled to give audiences real-life stories as his directorial debut Shah was also based on a true event, and he says his motivation is purely "selfish".
"There is no driving factor, I’m not a biopic guy. The only thing I put on screen is what I also enjoy watching," comes the reply.
"[I took on Shah] because I wanted to see his story, Shah’s story onscreen. I wanted to see it. [I took on Motorcycle Girl because] I wanted to see that scene, I wanted to see that song shot that way with that girl on that motorcycle and that ending. I saw a story, I wanted to see it onscreen for myself."
"I’m a very selfish filmmaker. If I weren’t, I probably won’t be making a film like this (MCG) or Shah because it makes no sense to my investors, it makes no sense to my family and friends who have seen my struggle for so many years," he adds.
"After Shah people started hailing me as some sort of ‘boy genius’, I am neither a boy nor am I a genius, I don’t think I’m a phenomenal director by any stretch of the imagination. I’m still learning, and my direction is quite amateurish and getting better but I had offers from big budget films, I didn’t touch them, that’s not who I am. This is who I am (points at the MCG poster). I enjoy watching this film. I saw it in post-production and I said it’s a good film, I enjoy all these characters."
Earlier, Adnan had said that he hopes Motorcycle Girl helps bring about women's empowerment in Pakistan, but he tells me that although he is passionate about this movement, that's not the intended purpose behind the film.
"Like some directors in Pakistan are out to change the world with their cinema, I’m not," he tells me.
"I'd like more girls riding motorcycles because they went to see Motorcycle Girl with their brothers and they thought 'Hey, it’s okay, that could be my sister, that could be my daughter, that could be my wife... and more girls come out and start riding bikes and become independently mobile, [and have] freedom of movement. These are things I’m passionate about, but is this the reason why this film exists? Absolutely not," says Adnan. "If it helps towards the cause that I am personally very passionate about. Bonus. Otherwise I am too insignificant a person to change the world with my cinema."
"I wrote this story [Motorcycle Girl] because we have a responsibility at this stage," continues Adnan. "We as filmmakers [have a responsibility]; when a family spends Rs500 per person, they’re paying and spending on your film, it is your responsibility to give them a good weekend."
He adds, "People say come support Pakistani cinema, I never say come support my films, I’m not out here to look for your support. If I wanted to make films purely for hits, I have a lot of scripts and I was being offered a lot of money."
Talking about his latest project he says, "Is it going to be a technical masterpiece? No. Is it going to sound like Baaghi 2? No. Is it going to look like Ready Player One? Absolutely NOT. Is it going to be a technical masterpiece that I can say 'hail this achievement in cinema'? No. I want to educate the audience in a way that that Pakistani cinema focuses on content and acting performances."
"We are just learning how to walk. What we are doing is special not because of technical progress or rewriting, we’re not making better films than India. We're like a baby learning how to walk."
Adnan's film Motorcycle Girl is set to screen in cinemas on April 20, but before you mark your calendars, the director has a little message for the critics and moviegoers: If you go into the cinema and expect a Rs2.5 crore film to give you the same cinematic experience as a $50 million film then there is something wrong with your expectation, not my delivery -- we make films in less money than their Porta Potty budget.