I was counting down the days in anticipation of the biggest blockbuster movie in Lollywood’s history, writes Dilly Hussain.
For those of you who are wondering what “Lollywood” is, it’s the Pakistani film industry, like Hollywood (USA) and Bollywood (India).
$1.6m (170 million PKR) was spent on the movie Waar (Urdu for “to strike”) and there is no doubt that this was the most anticipated film to come out of Pakistan.
After watching the trailer, I was prematurely won over. For once, I thought Pakistan had produced an action-packed movie with a good storyline, with exception to the anti-Taliban narrative of course.
The trailer had depicted the movie to be about good versus evil, the Pakistani army and security services obviously representing the camp of good and the “terrorists” being the camp of evil.
IMDB rated Waar 9.5 and the YouTube trailer was viewed more than 500,000 times in the first month when posted in January, so naturally I was expecting non-stop action, epic fight scenes, a solid storyline (political narrative aside) and above-par acting.
Waar also broke the record of the highest grossing film in Pakistan by raking in 20 crore PKR ($1.9m).
But unfortunately all I got was mediocre action scenes, a disgracefully poor storyline absent of any factual structure and over excessive “Yankyness”.
Inspired by real life events of an assault on a Lahore police academy in 2009, Waar focused on the efforts of the Pakistani security forces in their fight against terrorism.
Retired security officer Mujthaba (Shaan Shahid) returns to duty to save his country from a major terrorist attack after his wife and son were murdered by Ramal (Shamoon Abbasi), an Indian spy hired to wreak havoc in Pakistan. Seeking revenge, Ramal planted a bomb in Mujthaba’s house after he was arrested by the security officer three years earlier.
The sub-story which intertwined with the main plot was the building of a dam spearheaded by charismatic politician Ejaz Khan (Ali Azmat). But numerous attempts to sabotage the building of the dam were being made by the Indian security services, namely by undercover agent Laxmi (Meesha Shafi) who was having an affair with Ejaz. Ejaz who wanted to unite Pakistan behind the dam project in order to make his nation stronger and self-sufficient was assassinated by Ramal along with his pregnant wife.
Hell-bent on completing his mission to destabilise Pakistan, Ramal assassinated key political figures and conspired with the “extremists” to carry out terrorist attacks, eventually being prevented from doing so by Mujthaba in a final showdown.
Hats off to Bilal Lashari (who played the sniper Ali) for not holding back in portraying Pakistan’s politicians for what they really are (like most politicians in the Muslim world) – money hungry, corrupt to the teeth, lovers of wine and whisky, and of course serial adulterers and womanisers.
Even Ejaz who was perceived to be the “good guy” and wanted the best for his country drank alcohol and had a mistress on the side.
But I was disappointed that there was no religious or political consistency behind the narrative that was being put forward by Lashari.
At no point during the movie did the “extremists” (who were clearly the Taliban) ever explain what the problem with their government was and why they felt it was justified to do jihad against it, besides that the state was “weak” and the system was “unjust”.
Nor was it clear who the real enemies of Pakistan were. Yes, there were two undercover Indian agents that were trying to destabilise Pakistan, prevent the building of the dam and funded terrorists to commit atrocities, but more political clarity would have been educational for the audience to understand the reality on the ground.
What about the US?
I expected the anti-Taliban narrative when I saw the trailer, but I wasn’t expecting how there was absolutely no mentioning of US foreign policy, the War on Terror, drone attacks in NWFP, Blackwater and JSOC operations in Pakistan or the bitter home truth that Pakistan is in reality an American proxy.
The only part of the film that mentioned the US was when terrorists, spies or politicians were paid in dollars!
To be honest it was highly unlikely that the biggest movie in Pakistan’s history was going to scrutinise its own “prestige” army and security services. Nevertheless, Pakistanis and people in general are not sheep. They are fully aware that the biggest threat to Pakistan’s stability isn’t the Taliban or Islamic extremism, but rather it is the US-led War on Terror and India.
So it made sense to me why Pakistani politicians along with Western film critics blew Waar’s trumpet, because it didn’t really address or account for the real dilemmas that Pakistan faces.
Everyone knows that Pakistani politicians (be it the PPP, PMLN or senior army generals) are in bed with the US. It’s also no secret that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is complicit with American aggression on its “sovereign” soil.
Whether the Indian security services are involved in espionage operations and fund rogue elements within the Taliban, Waar failed to offer even a semi-sincere narrative to the dire political situation in Pakistan.
The film blamed all the turmoil on bearded blood-hungry Mullahs who were hell bent on destroying Pakistan with the support of India, a narrative which intentionally ignores the obvious elephant in the room, and that is the role of the colonial master – the US.
Not all bad
However, Lollywood should pat itself on the back for producing a film like Waar after decades of endless flops in comparison to the hundreds of acclaimed Bollywood hits.
The action scenes were okay; the Ryu vs Ip Man duel at the end was comical; Shaan Shahid did a great job as the main protagonist; but the spoken English of some of the characters was just too excessively American and I just wished they stuck to Urdu.
As mentioned above the storyline and narrative was poor, but alhamdulillah there were no explicit sexual/climax scenes and no random singing on hill tops or love songs.
The portrayal of Pakistan’s political elite was spot on but the depiction of the political reality was far from it.
Was it evident that so much money, time and effort was put into Waar? Yes but not $1.6m worth of sweat. Is it up there with some of Bollywood’s greatest “terrorism” movies? Of course it is! The Indian narrative about domestic terrorism is as good as Israel’s narrative that all Palestinians are anti-Semitic terrorists.
Would I recommend going to see Waar? Of course I would, especially if you’re Pakistani, this is the best movie to come out of your country to date (not promoting nationalism) but don’t hold your breath if you’re expecting a Three Kings or Black Hawk Down equivalent!