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Waar and peace

A Pakistani blockbuster with mountains,terrorists and RAW agents who like to dance

Written by Komail Aijazuddin |
November 18, 2013 1:51:56 am

A Pakistani blockbuster with mountains,terrorists and RAW agents who like to dance

You’ve probably heard by now that an action movie called Waar was released our side of the border. Already people are calling it the “highest grossing Pakistani film of all time”,which is a bit like saying it’s the tallest kid in the second grade. Still,it’s a sexily shot,slickly edited and surprisingly entertaining two-hour romp against the backdrop of mountains,terrorists and RAW agents who like to dance.

We enter the story in an undisclosed location,in the middle of a tense rescue operation where our muscled commandoes (still rocking the Rocky look,you can’t keep a good mullet down) save a grateful Chinese man from being decapitated by terrorists. It’s all very exciting and proficient. The only man missing from our group is Shaan,the lead actor. Shaan is the most famous male actor we have,Pakistan’s Shahrukh Khan if you will. Actually,considering he’s been around since the 1980s,Shaan is our Anil Kapoor,Shahrukh,Aamir and Salman Khan all rolled into one big,round package. He plays Mujtaba,the Best of Agents who’s been going through some painful (and time-consuming) angst,but is returning to the espionage game to track down an old nemesis and save the country from certain doom (“which one exactly?” one is tempted to ask).

Next,we see Meesha Shafi (of Coke Studio and The Reluctant Fundamentalist fame) coming out of a refugee camp surrounded by children. She plays an NGO worker who cares. Quickly you figure out she’s not what she seems as she calls to ask a favour of Ali Azmat’s character,Ejaz,a thinly veiled version of a Pakistani playboy politician. Ejaz is building a dam for the country he loves and in a fit of moral courage decides to dump his mistress,Meesha’s character Lakshmi,to go back to his knocked-up wife. Lakshmi doesn’t take this well,but he leaves anyway without having drunk his red wine (one point for piety). Obviously Lakshmi is a RAW agent bent on destroying Ejaz’s well-intentioned plans for no other reason than she can. (Much of the time she walks around people slowly and seductively; the echoing sound of Lakshmi’s heels on expensive flooring is as much part of the movie soundtrack as gunshots.) Finally,we are taken to a set somewhere in North Waziristan and it is here,amidst the inexplicably Mughal architecture,that the bearded terrorists twirl their mustaches with practised glee as they plan how to wipe out the good people of the Land of the Pure.

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I didn’t know the movie was almost entirely in English. Not just any English,but the Americanised,we-live-in-the-Bronx kind. Some accents are worse than others (“Moojtaabah,” says the head of intelligence,“its tayum for youuo tah cam bayck tah us.”). The plot remains predictable and there is no shortage of exciting moments to propel you to the next disaster. In that sense,it’s a movie well made; the camera work is sophisticated,the action scenes impressive and believable,and the backdrops look spectacular.

Part of the press surrounding the movie has brought up its funding. About five minutes in,you know this is more than just an action film; it’s a seductively packaged image-manifesto. In this world,the Pakistanis are duskier G.I. Joes,rescuing the country (and,ambitiously,the world) from a threat we don’t even know exists yet; NGO workers aren’t always to be trusted,lest they sedate you and steal your dam away; the terrorists in the north want to kill the spirit of the people and have to be dealt with so we aren’t shown up in front of “our best friends” (practically the only mention of the Americans in the script); women with hipster glasses and skinny jeans hack into terrorist cell networks on their Macs and are in high positions of power; and people spontaneously salute pictures of national leaders because they feel like it.

Most of the plot’s turns are to be expected. That some of the villains are Indians should come as no surprise. Not because it’s an insult,but because we both use each other as the bad guys in movies,which is part of creative licence. The one thing that I do want to talk about — almost as an act of catharsis — is a long and inexplicable dance sequence. Without giving too much away,Lakshmi meets another RAW agent at her flat in Islamabad as they plan an act of carnage. Once the killing starts elsewhere,our two agents decide to do a Dance of Desire. (I know y’all like dances but be warned,this is the only one in the film.) It’s not like it’s just a flickering montage either,no no no. It goes on for a good few minutes as the movie shifts between realistic scenes of men being riddled with bullets to Meesha Shafi running through corridors,arms aloft,waiting to be lifted up like her life is the end of Dirty Dancing.

The main criticism of Waar is that it is propagating a simplified narrative from unnamed sources. Its supporters say the movie is fiction,and an action movie to boot,so why should one hold it to documentary standards? Would you do the same with Krissh 3? My own feeling is that countries eventually believe what they tell themselves,so it’s prudent to be aware of who is saying what.

I haven’t given away the rest of the plot because I think you should see the movie. For all the strange dancing,the fabulous accents,and despite all the times people remove their dark glasses very s-l-o-w-l-y,I wasn’t bored for a moment while watching it.

Aijazuddin is a visual artist and writer based in Lahore

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