At about forty minutes into “Waar”, I was compelled to ‘tweet’ MY status; the expletive-free version here pretty much asks the same question: when would “Waar” start thrilling. The answer: pretty much never.
As the first of what I presume many future plotless, scriptless actioners from Pakistani New Wave, director Bilal Lashari’s long-in-production actioner is as ineffective as any late night B-movie on counter-terrorism units working against the clock to stop local and international villainy. Only here, the clock never starts. The climatic brawl actually has a timed-bomb ticking away – not that it makes a squat of difference.
The idea behind Mr. Lashari’s big-budget fare is fairly on the money: a scarred one-man-army ghost-op (Shaan Shahid playing Mujtaba) is called back to active duty to save the country from a nefarious cosplaying bad guy (Shamoon Abbasi), who killed his family. In with Mujtaba is intelligence ace Javeria (Ayesha Khan), her gun-happy brother Ehtesham (Hamza Ali Abbasi), a lot of Urdu subtitles (the movie’s native language is English), and an overstretched running time.
From what it appears on the screen, the screenplay by producer Hassan Waqas Rana is a codswallop of instances taped together to form narrative coherency. Their inadequacy often functions against Mr. Lashari’s natural, and very apparent, cinematic knack.
“Waar” has adequate cinematography and editing by Mr. Lashari (film anything in RED’s digital cinematic resolution and you’ll automatically get the clean grandness of a feature film). The lighting design becomes apparent in a few noticeable moments and the production design’s lavishness is limited to rented townhouses, apartments and a crumbling brick headquarters of our homebred terrorists.
If these benchmarks are taken into account, amongst Mr. Lashari’s own insistence to use real firepower and weaponry, then “Waar” certainly is a ‘showy’ enterprise; in reality though, it is an exercise of unwarranted overextending.
Ok, I can imagine the hate-mail pouring in right now: “do too much, and it’s overextending; do too little, and you’re underachieving. At least applaud the revival”. I agree, to a degree. There is a significant difference between making an okayish product and an intelligent one (case in point: “Josh” versus “Zinda Bhaag”; and then there was “Main Hoon Shahid Afridi”, a showboat entertainer). Superficial looks never made any ‘Wood’ (Holly, Bolly) better.
“Waar” dawdles through its pre-intermission time by shifting through Mujtaba’s grunts (and the cast’s deliberate use of English accents), some backstories and a few bits of action (the first-strike in a back-alley terrorist hideout that opens the movie is gripping).
In between them is Eijaz Khan (Ali Azmat), a politician who wants to make a dam and serve Pakistan. His is a man who has had a moment of weakness (in the form of socio-activist played by Meesha Shafi), but is still strong-willed about his responsibilities – and maybe his own dreams of greatness. At one moment, standing alone in his balcony, he opens his arms wide to take the applause of an invisible crowd of millions. Like every young-blood politician, he has an agenda and watching Mr. Azmat work his character, as ‘real actors’ try to keep up, is a strange, if unexpected experience.
Unlike Eijaz Khan’s plans, “Waar’s” agenda is clear to a lesser degree. The story, the plot, the resolve – in fact everything – hangs on a failing thread.
A handful of scenes show Mr. Abbasi’s counter-intelligence specialist named Rumal, slipping into Pakistan, snapping people’s necks, or dancing a half-hearted tango with Ms. Shafi (Spoiler alert? I don’t think so. The clip is in the trailers). Rumal’s dread is never fully elaborated, other than what we’re told of him.
Mr. Shahid is just too stale as Mujtaba; our interest in him is limited to his skills in the field, and that too in trifling quantities.
When the movie opens, we see Mujtaba interrogating two terrorists in a bad-cop/bad-cop routine. The full scene slides its way deep into “Waar’s” second act (if there is an act structure here), and is the only scene that helps let out a guffaw. This brief moment of excellence never surfaces again.
Instead, what we see often are episodes like this: At one instance, late in the movie, we see Mujtaba jump off a military chopper in daylight, as he makes his way to the main terrorist’s hideout, bumping off any antihero he bumps into. He even saves a couple of children (who we had no idea were there in the first place), while the rest of the covert action team serves as cannon-fodder backup.
Mujtaba gets two more shots amidst some more grieving, but they hardly matter, because like John McClane, or any of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s action-avatars, the villains are literally dead-meat when Mujtaba walks into a scene.
Speaking of action scenes, the Lahore Police Academy attack, the core foundation of “Waar’s” inspiration, is one of the few gripping moments in the movie’s 130 minute running time. The layout and the execution of the attack, whether fact or fictionalized, has the right impact.
Coming back to the cast, Ms. Khan sobs, threatens and gruff’s as much as Mr. Shahid, though to what exact effect I am perplexed. Her feminine sensuality is a seeming addition to an otherwise boys-and-their-toys flick. Ms. Khan’s on-screen brother is more captivating.
Akin to his recent stint in “Main Hoon Shahid Afridi”, Mr. Ali plays an immediately likable character who also has no real substance. Mr. Ali has few dialogues and two action scenes, but “Waar” deliberately keep him on the sidelines, as if the production was unsure of wasting Mr. Shahid’s spotlight. It would have been better if it did – or if Mr. Shahid was written with originality or panache (at the end of the day, I doubt we got to know much about Mujtaba other than what was ordered at us).
One of my other biggest beef with “Waar” (apart from its threadbare story-layout) is its language: a movie about Pakistan, its lingering terrorist threats and valor of armed forces shouldn’t center itself on a foreign language. Even if ‘some’ of us – especially the ones in high-society – do find it better to forsake our native language, it doesn’t mean that a mainstream commercial movie should cater specifically to that small demographic. Everyone else – even if they can afford a Rs. 500 (plus) ticket – isn’t chopped liver, and new blood filmmakers should note that down in big screaming letters. Catering to the international market is one thing, but relying solely on it is either ignorance or arrogance.
The least “Waar’s” producers could do is dub the movie; on second thought, that would make everything more awkward.
Starring: Shaan Shahid, Shamoon Abbasi, Ali Azmat, Ayesha Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi.
Directed by Bilal Lashari, Produced by Hassan Waqas Rana, Written by Hassan Waqas Rana, Music by Amir Munawar with Cinematography and Editing by Mr. Lashari.
Released by Mandviwalla Entertainment and ARY Films. “Waar” is rated ‘A’ for sensuality and brief kick-ass action. The baddies die, obviously. So do you, at one point.
Despite living movies 24/7 (http://kamranjawaid.com), the writer is still truly, madly, deeply in love with cinema; the root cause of this anomaly requires further clinical trials.
He tweets @kamranjawaid
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