This happened two years ago. I was standing, one morning in October, in the driveway of a cream-coloured pre-Partition bungalow in New Delhi. A film was being shot here, a film set partly in Lahore. Hence my presence on the set: I was the film’s Pakistan consultant, there to improve the actors’ West Punjabi accents and weed out any social-cultural inaccuracies in the dialogue. (Hence too the art deco mansion on Amrita Shergil Marg, which had been selected because it resembled – in scale and attitude – some houses the director had seen in Lahore. The historical irony in this – the idea that contemporary Lahore could be found in dinosaurial Delhi – was not lost on me.)
Suddenly I spotted in a corner of the lawn two fantastic figures: the men wore turbans and long kurtas, and were holding rifles in the style of warrior Pathans. (The rifles were held vertically, like staffs.)
I looked at the script. The scene we were shooting had no such characters.
“Who are they?” I asked a set designer who was rushing past me with a sheaf of hangers.
“Oh,” she said. “They are ISI only…”
I got the men to change their clothes (the turbans went, as did the rifles, and the kurtas were replaced by awami suits). But the image stayed with me. Or rather, an image of the image that an Indian costume designer can have of Pakistan: a land of war and embroideries, a place where people carry outdated weapons and speak a poetical language and generally behave like figures from Orientalist paintings.
[quote]The irony in the idea that “contemporary” Lahore could now be found in dinosaurial Delhi was not lost on me[/quote]
That imagery came back to me this week, when I went to a theater in Lahore and saw Waar, a Pakistani film with an inverted (and therefore curiously similar) view of this country.
The premise is familiar: Major Mujtaba (played by the now professionally emotive Shaan) is a hotheaded-but-good-hearted former secret agent who has lost his wife and son in the line of fire. (A bomb intended for the Major got his family instead.) Haunted by that loss (“It should have been me!”), Mujtaba goes into a black hole of self-loathing and bad-cop excessiveness: for the first half of the film we alternate between stylish depictions of Mujtaba’s grief (dreams, flashbacks, late-night weeping in bed) and the rough, unfeeling behavior that is its outward manifestation (he is in his element when torturing foreign-funded terrorists). Until he gets a chance to revenge himself properly: the very same Indian agent (played by a bald and thick-necked Shamoon Abbasi) who killed Mujtaba’s family has returned to destabilize the government of Pakistan, and Mujtaba is brought back from an early retirement to stop him in his tracks.
What follows is a visually slick, spiritually bereft and ontologically retarded variant of the Hollywood blockbuster: Major Mujtaba and his teammates, all armed with Mac computers and faulty American accents – they say things like “That’s ma way” and “There is an eminent [imminent] threat!” – blaze and blast their way through the Indians’ plans, until their mission leads them – obviously – into Waziristan. Along the way we are made to suffer, in the form of the rock-star-turned-Freemasonry-enthusiast Ali Azmat, a philandering but well-meaning politician (he wants to build a dam – Pakistan zindabad! – but can’t because of those wretched feudal politicians); a shape-shifting NGO woman (played by Meesha Shafi) who wears a pious white shalwar-kameez by day and a sexy black dress by night and uses red wine and expressionist dance, among other un-Islamic devices, to oversee the Hindu armageddon (her name is Lakshmi, but maybe it should have been Kali); a golf-playing, scarf-and-overcoat wearing intelligence wizard (played by Mr. Kamran Lashari, who in real life designed the now-defunct Food Street in Lahore and is the father of Waar’s director); and a bunch of “misguided”, curiously Punjabi-accented Pathans (they don’t deserve American accents, clearly) in the mountains of Waziristan who have been bribed – by the Indians, who else? –into betraying their country.
‘Who are these people?’ I found myself thinking throughout the magic realism of Waar. These people who want us to believe that our intelligence agencies are stuffed with terminators like Major Mujtaba (and not fulminators like Hamid Gul)? These people who want us to believe that yoga-practicing, slow-dancing Hindus (and not jihad-preaching Arabs and Libyans and Egyptians, to say nothing of our military’s homegrown “strategic assets”) are masterminding the suicide bombings and mass killings in Pakistan? These people who, while hotly upholding the ideology of Pakistan, wish to view themselves only in slick interiors and rugged exteriors – as if their experience of Pakistan were basically divisible into hiking trips and Ikea-furnished apartments? These people who love Islam, who love Mr. Jinnah’s portrait, who love firing guns in the air and shouting American expletives with glamorous grimaces? (“Go f***k yourself!” cries Shaan at one point. “That’s so f*****g convenient!” shouts Meesha Shafi at another.) These people who hold NGO women responsible for the corruption of their society?
[quote]They are crassly imitative while perceiving themselves original and rooted[/quote]
They are, apparently, the makers and financiers of a film called Waar. They are nationalistic in the extreme; they are crassly imitative while perceiving themselves to be original and rooted; and they are still, in this time of unfathomable crisis, when the whole world has declared them dangerous and deluded, trying to sell the idea that Pakistan bleeds when Indians dance.
Won’t you join ‘em – cam on! – on their next trip to Waziristan?
Yes, who are these people who dare to make a movie which shows indians as villains? How dare they suggest that a hostile neighbour might be involved in stirring up trouble in this country! How dare they!
I mean can anyone imagine any other country making a movie glorifying nationalism and taking down stereotypical villains? Surely not! I mean, obviously the US army is full of Rambos and GI Joes. And obviously, all evil resided in russia and eastern europe during the cold war, only to move to the middle east, iran and now pakistan. This is all fact!
Grow up. Quite obviously it was an action movie!
Agree. You have nailed the writer, who has gone so emotional that forgot difference between a movie and real life. The article gives us impression as if all other movies have true information and scenes, including the Pakistan-bashing Indian movies. COOL DOWN DEAR. You don’t like the movie, it’s OK.
May be writer would have a different opinion if “He was the film’s Pakistan/ Indian/ ISI etc. consultant” 🙂
Haven’t seen the movie yet, but have been reading these ridiculous criticisms and I am glad you’ve rebutted with such strong, and apt words.
Some say a movie is worth the price of ticket that viewers are willing to spend for. Was it worth it? Was the entertainment worth its price? Most viewers agree to it I believe
Many of us would like to read/ hear more about your experience of Indian cinema which is a million years ahead of Pakistan on ISI/ Pak Army/ two Nation theory with out the context that you have quoted here
Terrific article. Terrific piece of writing.
Spot on. btw you don’t have to be “nationalistic in the extreme” to make/like this movie. Plain stupidity should suffice.
It’s a nice movie overall, I think they could have done better but still it has set the standards higher for Pakistani movies.
The movie sucks just as bad as does ISI & its overarching religious & nationalistic narratives. Ironically, the Indian Agent comes on top as far as the acting goes. So much for the lousy script – an eclectic Hollywood filch. It was anything but inventive.
Very well written. You read my mind but also made me think about glorified stereotypes that are just inside out.
I want to say to the writer :” Why so serious!” man it was just a film, so enjoy it….
a very accurate and reliable review:)
The movie sucked sooo hard
shame on them who r critising this effort. only those people r criticizing who r the slaves of bollywood. i will just say that jalnay walo k liye burnol he kaafi hay.
Come on Dudes, don’t get panic…..
I saw Many academic people in Pakistan, US and India too got frustrated and obsessed with movie “WAAR”…
How about Indian movies targeting Pakistan as villain, don’t forget movies like “Sarfaroosh; Border; etc. And many Hollywwod movies have similar script focusing states called “axis of evil”.
Lets come out of biases….
I think the author has taken this movie a little too seriously.
As others have pointed it, its just an action movie and was good entertainment.
No one wants you to believe anything……..
very sensible review. yes the writer has taken the issue seriously and it also has substance
certainly the die hard pakistani nationalists of the hamid gul variety shall be disappointed with ali sethi who has seen through the myopia and colored lenses of the producers. one can see their vitriolic “reaction” in comments above.
the problem with pakistani intelligentsia is that they are totally “obsessed” with india. and that has been our dilemma since its birth.
either HATE INDIA or you shall PERISH!
though i am no supporter of the present day nuclear and militarised india either with their pathetic HRs record, i am also not fascinated or in awe of the ISI funded jehadis spreading violence and bigotry across the world.
also their half baked, retarded “experts” on TV channels. shaan being the suave new breed of apologists amongst the actors and directors who can match venomous and anecdotal indian counterparts from bollywood, with their own stereotypes dressed in gimmickry, computer wizardry and misguided gallantry.
thanks TFT for this excellent review. have no patience to waste time for this kind of rubbish – though i feel the emotive and delirious youth of pakistan will go flocking to make the brain dead movie another blockbuster!
after all INDIA is Pakistan’s dushman # 1 and its raison d’etre for existence is HATE as prescribed by GHQ and ISI!!!!
so why should not messrs shan and producers of WAAR disagree with this narrative?
Lagta hy kafi takleef hoe hay aur yehi film kee kamyabi kee daleel hay. The success of any movie is defined by the sales and the box office returns and not be disgruntled bloggers pathetic reviews. Just sit back and smolder at the fact that the film is breaking all box office records despite your rantings 🙂
excellent movie. should b made more. for many years we r watching bollywood & hollywood propaganda movies, many in a year. every movie maker hz the right to present his/her oint of view.
Bravo! Incredible writing skills (it’s my first encounter of your writings). I shall google you and get hold of your book “The Wish Maker”.
Now moment of truth, about this article. I utterly concur your cinematic notion of portraying the realistic situation (in terms of costume, language, accent, locations, etc), in fact-cum-fiction movies (as we’ve seen in Bourne’s movies or any other middle-eastern action/thriller Hollywood flick), which was bit lacking in Waar. I do agree with you that Pakistan Military role in War on Terror was not depicted in movie.
But I reckon your criticism about not showing the real picture of current situation is unjust. Because Waar is not a documentary, it’s mere cinematic work of fiction based on some true events, and should be taken as one. Considering all the odds of Pakistan Film Industry, I reckon it’s great effort by our local talent and should be appreciated, not discriminated.
It’s much more believable and stylishly shot than the prices of wishful thinking crap Bollywood has been churning out through the dumbass sunny deol and his “Singh” antics.
Excellent review. Ali you’ve hit the nail on the head. I found this film to be surreal/bizarre where stereotypes spoke extrinsic language/s with complete disconnect …
Ali has very incisively tackled the gaping holes in the movie….if the script is premised on some surreal plot that is not in consonance with or appreciative of the issue as it exists in the real world then I am afraid just slick action is not going to make me ooze patriotism
Unfortunately anything to do with Pakistani nationalism is something that the ruling family of TFT have a great distaste for. This is the same newspaper which once published an article (written by Ms. muneezeh Jehangir) which referred to Azad Kashmir as Pakistani held Kashmir. No Indian newspaper will ever refer Indian Held Kashmir as Indian Held Kashmir but Mr. Sethi and his pseudo India loving liberals always find a reason to trash anything which portrays our country in a good light.
I don’t understand how they expect Pakistanis a patriotic movie like that never made by any Indian / American or etc. why not they questioning Americans and Indian or other countries film-makers when they are showing another countries agencies as villain in their films wrongly as propaganda stuff I never understands what such a kind of critic want to see this movie. A commercial movie is a movie that make to take audience to see it an enjoy it not how things going on reality. what producer and writer presented in movie is their view point you can disagreement with that but that’s not mean that bush the whole movie this is nice movie and good effort by a young director I like it. and regarding accents every nation speaks English in there native accent like Australians, South Africans, Americans, Arabs, French etc. what the hell you expecting American accent from a Pakistanis, after all they are born Pakistani not born Americans. this childish expectation.