Shah (Review): A barefoot champion of Pakistani cinema

Movie Name: Shah

Release Date: August 14, 2015

Director: Adnan Sarwar

Review by: Zeeshan Mahmood

Making a sports biopic on the life of a forgotten boxer with scarce budget by a team of five people who juggled the tasks and roles and then finally releasing the film with much speculation is itself a wholesome achievement but Shah achieved more than that. The film is an intense cinematic experience about the life of an unsung hero and hundreds of similar people hailing from very low backgrounds, making their ways to become the shining stars of the nation and then being forgotten by the state and public.

The film is based on the real life story of Syed Hussain Shah, a homeless orphan of Lyari who, by the mercy of fate, gets the guardianship of Kareem Chacha, a kind footpath dweller in Lyari, and develops a knack for boxing. He has grown up into a local boxing champion when he gets attention of the sports federation for representing the country internationally in a boxing tournament. The barefoot boxer from Pakistan wins his very first international tournament and this starts his career in international boxing. He brings gold, silver and bronze medals home one after the other and becomes the nation’s boxing sensation. But the apathy of the sports federation puts him back in the state of destitution and later disappearance after his retirement.

Besides the boxer’s life, the story of Shah is strongly linked with Lyari, a locality in Karachi commonly known for destitution and violence. The film tries to give a voice to the grievances of Lyari dwellers and also shows an alternative image of the locality where people have love and talent for the sports. The film also hits on the dysfunctional and corruption infested sports federations in Pakistan which are the main reason behind fall of many sports in the country and discouragement of the real talent. On the other hand, the personal and lighter side of the boxer’s life is totally left out in the film which keeps the intensity level at almost a constant point throughout the film.

Shah is the directorial debut of Adnan Sarwar who played the titular character as well. He showed his talent in both departments with equal authenticity. Being a sports biopic about a boxer, the direction of the boxing fights, scenes inside the ring, are of very good quality, look close to real and give goosebumps which is an achievement of Adnan Sarwar as he took care of things both in front of and behind the camera very well.

However, some part of the film outside the ring, and in the less adventurous world, seems little incoherent and out of sync with the rest of the film. This lapse can be shared by the shortcomings in direction and editing departments both as sometime the background score stops suddenly or there is no background score, some of the scenes fall flat or there are some lighting issues etc. These are very few flaws which can be ignored while evaluating the film based on the facts we know about its production level.

The film has a very small cast, so, in the acting department the most notable performance is given by Adnan Sarwar himself. Other actors also played their parts equally well. It is worth noting that almost all of these actors are unknown faces and they successfully created a connection with the viewers in the film.

The background score of the film is a key behind maintaining the high intensity quotient of the film, especially during the fight scenes and when the boxer returns home with a bronze medal from Olympics. The score is epic and amazing and one of the things one must look forward to in Shah.

Adnan Sarwar has proved that the filmmakers in Pakistan can try different genres and narrate the unconventional stories by making Shah. The film is not less than any sports biopic of Hollywood or Bollywood in paying the tribute to a sports star and reliving the moments of pride. Shah is not only an achievement for Adnan Sarwar but for the whole Pakistani film industry.

Engineer, writer, designer. A multipotentialite juggling bits and bytes, words and paragraphs, and curves and shades all the time. That's my nirvana.
shah-review-a-barefoot-champion-of-pakistani-cinemaShah is not less than any foreign sports biopic in its spirits and paying tribute to a forgotten hero. The film, despite having low budget, maintains a good quality in each department and narrates the tale of boxing champion, Syed Hussain Shah, in a true voice. Just like barefoot Hussain who wins his first international tournament, Shah is also a champion of Pakistan cinema and an achievement of Adnan Sarwar.


  1. Gulab Chandio was the most organic in the film, it was great to see him again. So, saying everyone was unknown says you didn’t see 80s PTV. To be honest as an 80s precocious teen I laughed or atleast smiled many times during the film because I remember the feel of that time in Pakistan and the film managed to recreate it for me.

  2. ne of the best movies watched by me. my heart bled on seeing how he struggled throughout his life, deceived by people when he had such an exceptional skill… he nd many people like him have always been here among us unnoticed..Hats off to ‪#‎AdnanSarwar‬ for making such a wonderful piece of art….‪#‎Shah‬ you will be in hearts now forever.


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