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”.
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!
The film's release date was changed repeatedly and finally it was released on 16 October 2013 coinciding with Eid al-Adha in Pakistan. Earlier it was scheduled to release on 6 September 2013. The first theatrical trailer of the movie was launched in January 2012 while the second in January 2013. One of the trailers was viewed more than 500,000 times the same month, making it one of the top five videos of YouTube. The film was dubbed as the most anticipated film in the history of the Pakistani Cinema. When the film could not make it to the screens in a considerable time after the release of trailers, the critics dubbed it as another project that will get shelved. Shamoon Abbasi, the main antagonist, cited the lack of resources for filming as one of the reasons for its delay. The film premiered on 10 October at Karachi and on 14 October 2013 at Rawalpindi/Islamabad. The film was given adults-only rating by the Sindh's provincial censor board for use of obscene language and violence. Waar was released in about forty five theaters across the country. The film was distributed by ARY Films and Mandviwalla Entertainment. Earlier it was reported that the film would be distributed by Warner Bros.. The film is reported to be released in twenty five countries and is all set to be released in the UK. Bilal Lashari says film may release in India.
Waar strikes UAE cinemas on 12 December, where the movie actors graced the red carpet at the Grand Cinema, Wafi City. Waar released in cinemas across UK on 17 January 2014.
DAWN News3/5 stars
The Express Tribune3/5 stars
The film received positive reviews from critics and became the highest grossing film in Pakistan of all time.IMDb puts Waar highest rated feature film of 2013 globally. It is rated 9.5 out of 10 in a polling based on 18000 users rating, ranking above films like The Wolf of Wall Street and Gravity.
Rafay Mahmood for The Express Tribune gave the movie three out of five stars and commended the cinematography, editing and sound design but viewed critically the story and some performances. According to the review 'Waar' is a "piece of pointless propaganda (and) is going to further confuse an already puzzled nation about Pakistan’s outlook on counter-terrorism. In the long run, it will prove to be a great feature for Pakistani cinema but a damaging one for intellect.
Mohammad Kamran Jawaid of Dawn gave 'Waar' a negative review, calling the screenplay a "codswallop of instances taped together to form narrative coherency". He also criticized the film's English language, stating that "catering to the international market is one thing, but relying solely on it is either ignorance or arrogance". His review labels 'Waar' as a "'showy' enterprise." where the "story, the plot, the resolve – in fact everything – hangs on a failing thread"
Salman Khalid for Daily Times talks about the message given by the movie that highlights the "Pakistani perspective on the menace of terrorism", while acclaiming the story, direction, action sequences and individual performances.
Indian film director Ram Gopal Varma praised the film, saying he was "stunned beyond belief" and congratulated Bilal Lashari.
Critics say the movie’s allusions to rival nuclear power India as the enemy only serves to deepen the antagonism between the two countries.
Waar opened on the first day of Eid al-Adha on 42 screens, the widest release ever, across Pakistan with 100% occupancy and it broke records with capacity audiences. It earned ₨1.14 crore (US$110,000) in its first day, thus breaking the previous record of ₨0.9 crore (US$84,000) held by Chennai Express. It earned a total of ₨4.26 crore (US$400,000) till Friday night, breaking all previous records of Eid collections. Waar collected ₨9.7 crore (US$910,000) in its extended first week of nine days and added another ₨3.7 crore (US$350,000), thus making a total of ₨13 crore (US$1.2 million) in thirteen days. The film managed to collect ₨1.9 crore (US$180,000) in its 4th week but was still behind Syed Noor's 1998 film Choorian, which earned ₨20 crore (US$1.9 million) and then on its 36th day of screening, it broke the record held by Choorian, thus becoming the highest grossing film in Pakistan by earning ₨20 crore (US$1.9 million).