Sherdil Review: Crash and Burn

Hassan Ansari reviews the new Pakistani film Sherdil, an action movie based around an airforce pilot.

Sherdil Review:  Crash and Burn – Verdict 2/10

Sherdil can be best described as a study of everything that can go wrong with film-making. From a bad script to hopeless wardrobe, from bad casting to dismal performances, it disappoints on so many levels that I actually feel bad for the personnel of the Pakistan Air Force, who must also be cringing at this film.

As somebody who intensely enjoys anything aviation-related and also has a significant respect for the armed forces of Pakistan, I fully expected to like Sherdil. The trailer, full of those amazing dogfight sequences, raised my expectations further, setting the stage perfectly for them to be shattered.

Top Gun it’s not

Make no mistake, those eight or so minutes of dogfight sequences are absolutely epic – the visual effects team has nailed it. The other 142 minutes of Sherdil would have been best left on the floor of the editor’s room. It is THAT bad.

I suppose the trouble starts with the fact that the movie (and its producer/director) had no idea of what they had set out to do. What should have been an inspiring story of a young guy who, against all odds, joins the PAF and becomes a celebrated pilot, winning the girl of his dreams along the way becomes… Well, it becomes a strange mix of comedy, action, flying sequences, romance and bad acting. Really, really bad acting. They could have focused on the PAF angle, showed his progress and his training – effectively making this film a hardcore air force film. That might have worked.

There should have been more emphasis on the PAF part of the story

It’s as if someone sat down and said, I want to make a movie about a boy who wants to be a fighter pilot even though his family is against the idea. The boy then goes on to do great things, just like his grandfather did, and makes everyone proud. But hey, said Advisor 1, you should have some comedy in it. And hey, said Advisor 2, there should be a romance angle, how can a movie succeed without a couple of good romantic songs and a shaadi-dance sequence? Oh and hey, said Advisor 3, you need to have a nice fight sequence. Oh and hey, said Advisor 4, don’t bother spending money getting the script written, just write it yourself.

And this is how this cringe-worthy, practically unwatchable movie was born. If I wasn’t going to review it, I swear I would have walked out when I reached the bottom of my popcorn.

The dogfights were the only good parts of Sherdil

Synopsis, full of spoilers (because I doubt anyone will manage to sit through the whole film): Mikaal wants to be a fighter pilot, against the wishes of his family. We see little of his training at PAF, focusing rather on pointless (and humorless) attempts at comedy by his bungling course-mates, punctuated by his sad, sad romance with co-star Armeena. Mikaal ends up going on an international flying course where he meets his nemesis, Flt Lt Arun (Hassan Niazi) from India. They eventually become reluctant friends and even join forces to fight a random kidnapper, who comes out of nowhere to kidnap Arun and Mikaal’s girlfriend in Dubai. In the final dogfight of the film, Mikaal shoots Arun out of the sky and is hailed as hero and (cliché alert) wins his father’s approval. You’d think that maybe they changed the ending because Indian and Pakistani pilots being friends is currently unacceptable but the story is already so all over the place that this seems unlikely. The film does end with a shot that has clearly been added later, designed to take advantage of the Abhinandan situation, showing Arun stuck in a tree, making a call and announcing that he’s crashed in Pakistani territory. It’s almost as if they were leaving room for a sequel and I hope to God that this never, ever happens.

When a movie contains consistently good performances from the entire cast, you know the director has got something to do with it. Not everyone delivers a stellar performance everyday and that’s where a good director comes in. Similarly, when everyone, including Mikaal Zulfiqar, performs incredibly poorly, you can bet the director has something to do with it. Armed with a childishly written script that jumps all over the place in terms of story and pace, the director set out to shoot a movie with not one, not two but three directors of photography. One could argue that he didn’t have much to work with (in terms of story), but even then, he could have added some value.

Don’t let this shot fool you – for the most part this pair just looked wrong together on screen

It’s possible that the casting was all wrong – clearly Mekaal Zulfiqar was the wrong choice to play the lead. Armeena was also the wrong choice – she looks older than him and reads her lines like a robot. But then the wardrobe was a disaster too – why were women dressed up all the time? Why was the father always in a suit, even when just reading the newspaper at home?

Pakistani filmmakers need to realize that just ticking all the checkboxes for a “formula film” will not necessarily spell success – Sherdil has the mandatory love songs, the dancing in the field and the desert (totally unnecessary by the way), the mehndi dance number and the pointless comedy. What it lacks, however, is a key element – a strong, compelling story, well-told. The story just isn’t strong enough and the storytelling is… lacking.

A few things deserve special mention (not in a good way) and I hope that the producer or director is reading this: Did you really think it was funny to have PAF personnel speaking horribly bad English? Trust me, no one in the cinema was laughing. And was racial humor the only option available to you, if you were bent on bringing comedy to the film?

The film was a disservice to the brave members of the PAF

It takes years of training to turn a man (or a woman) into a soldier or a fighter pilot. They constantly put their lives on the line, face hardships and fight battles that we know of and battles we never find out about. Our armed forces have given us so much to be proud of – I just wish they wouldn’t embarrass themselves by supporting projects like this.

My advice: don’t watch Sherdil. In the aviation world, there is a term called CFIT – Controlled Flight Into Terrain. Essentially it’s when, generally due to pilot error, an aircraft crashes into terrain (ground, hills, trees etc). And that’s what happened to Sherdil.

Verdict: 1/5


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