Waar, the Pakistani action movie/intelligence-agency-manifesto that just came out is already said to be the “highest grossing Pakistani film of all time”, which is a bit like saying it’s the tallest hobbit in the room, or the cleanest toilet at the zoo.
Our slickly shot, sexily edited movie opens with a rescue operation in an unnamed village. The Pakistani commandos, a motley but muscle-y crew dressed entirely in slimming black and sporting a wide variety of American accents (more on that later), barge into a building and shoot terrorists about to decapitate a Chinese man. It’s all very thrilling and competent. The day is saved, and the swaggering commandos escort the grateful Chinese man past the ring of paparazzi that has somehow materialized at the site of their triumph.
Conspicuous by his absence from this crew is the “best” amongst the commandos: Shaan, obviously. The lead actor plays the valiant but tortured Mujtaba, a now-retired agent of unknown provenance who loves to take his dark glasses off to underscore dramatic moments in his life, as one is apt to do. He is wrestling with some demons, having suffered a tragedy at the hands of a Machiavellian RAW agent with whom he dueled years ago.
Next we are shown Meesha Shafi as a white-clad NGO worker coming out of a refugee camp and looking like a cross between Asma Jahangir, Lady Di and the ghost from Lekin. Very quickly you realize she is not what she seems as she calls up an important politician to ask a favor. This turns out to be the spectacularly unwatchable Ali Azmat, who plays a philandering playboy politician called Ejaz Khan (no marks for guessing who he’s meant to be), and with whom Shafi’s character (her real name is Laxmi) is having an affair. But our politician is trying to build a dam in the country, and the underlying message here is “bless him, for he works for the people even if he sleeps with them.” Being so close to victory, Khan realizes the error of his way and wants to dump Meesha and go back to his knocked-up wife (I’m not sure which historical figure she is playing). He arrives at Shafi’s house as she walks out slowly in a black mini-dress holding two glasses of wine. He breaks up with her in a bizarre speech, and then leaves her to walk around her fabulous apartment in heels that echo off the empty hallways. (Shafi’s heels echo throughout the film as she circles around people seductively and with no apparent purpose.)
Finally, we are taken to “somewhere in Northern Pakistan”, a small but well-lit council of tribal lords sitting around a fire in an inexplicably Mughal fort. They debate how best to take advantage of the “Pakistani people” as a white light cascades over them, making them look alternatingly divine and mad, while they twirl mustaches with practiced villainy. I maintain: offensive is having Mughal architecture in North Waziristan with overhead lighting.
What I was not expecting was that the movie would be almost entirely in English. Not just any English, but American accented, lets-pretend-this-is-Brooklyn-and-your-name-is-Vinny-English. The man who plays the head of the Intelligence agency, father of the filmmaker and a prominent bureaucrat in real life, has perhaps the worst of the accents: “Moojtaaba, yoar goinna hafta lissen tah may! whatzmadderrrr wiz yewwww?!” (If you think that’s embarrassing, realize that that man has to go into his office after this movie comes out.) Anyway, the story goes on and basically the Indians don’t want us to build a dam, and the Northern Area villains just want to make money, and the black-clad commandos just want to save people (and not be shown up in front of “our best friends”, the Americans. The script really was this blatant, see for yourself).
Five minutes into the film you just know that this is an entirely fabricated narrative, gift-wrapped in high-res shots of Pakistan’s mountains and Meesha Shaafi’s legs, meant to be consumed wholesale. (A simplified explanation that is doing the rounds on the Internet is that ISPR gave millions of rupees to this film and really wants you to believe its narrative.)
In this narrative, the Pak army and its “premier” intelligence agency work on macs and solve crises before we know they have happened; NGO and human rights campaigners should be treated with suspicion because actually they are just foreign agents waiting to seduce and sedate you before dismantling the state; certain deluded politicians in Pakistan, rich and philandering as they may be, are still honorable because they at least salute the portrait of the Quaid-e-Azam that hangs in their houses; the head of our spy intel branch is a woman who wears jeans and hacks into files on her MacBook; the Indians just want to destroy everything for no reason other than a bit of fun; and the tribal terrorists have absolutely, positively and completely nothing whatsoever to do with the Pakistani Army. At all. God Promise.
[quote]Shaan says things like “In my book, Good always defeats Evil”[/quote]
There are some scenes that are informative, like when they show a terrorist attack on a police building, a sequence as terrifying as it is completely plausible (watch out for a fatty woman suicide bomber, a bit actress who is all kinds of fabulous were it not for her, you know, suicide). What is not plausible however is the Dance of Death that Meesha Shafi and Shamoon Abbasi (the RAW agent) do in their apartment while the carnage is unfolding in the police academy. I need to speak about that. Honestly, someone has to. It goes on for a good four minutes without explanation. By this stage in the movie you’ve heard Shaan say things like “In my book, Good always defeats Evil”, so your belief is somewhat suspended. It’s still difficult to cut from scenes of battle to Shafi/Laxmi running through her apartment, arms outstretched, expecting to be airlifted by an agent like this is the end of Dirty Dancing.
Nothing I’ve said here should take away from the plot of the movie (I use the term loosely). Most of what I’ve described happens in the first half hour (except for the Dance, which you must wait for, like a special drug-induced delirium) and the rest develops predictably. It’s implausible, laughably obvious and sickeningly transparent. But Waar is also well-shot (apparently it’s all about the camera), fast-paced, gripping and funny (unexpectedly, but hey, whatever works). Go see it if you have a few spare hours, if only to see for yourself exactly what you are being expected to believe and how very far it is from reality.
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