In the very beginning of Project Ghazi — a high-concept dud from director Nadir Shah and screenwriter, producer Syed Mohammad Ali Raza — a number of super soldiers, clad in white designer overalls, are trekking the Siachen terrain. Hungry, one of them wants paaye or haleem; another would be grateful if they can get just a steaming cup of tea. Without warning, a missile (obviously from across the border), hits the area and the commander of the team ends up making a life or death decision.
This small heavily computer-generated scene (and a job well done, too) has nothing to do with the movie’s actual story — but it does give you a good idea of what lies ahead. Good ideas, excellent visual effects, amateur performances, choppy editing and small but inconclusive scenes that make you wonder: what was that all about?
The story — and yes, there is some here, but not a lot — is mostly set in the headquarters of a top-secret military project classified as C12 in a borderline science fiction-esque facility that once used to breed super soldiers under a genius named Dr. Ziyaad (Talat Hussain, shockingly lax as an actor). Fed up with working for the government, Dr. Ziyaad now works for corporate clients, because the pay is good.
The only consistent aspect of Project Ghazi is its clumsiness
With the good doctor’s absence, the C12 facility has been running without a purpose since the death of the super soldier squad. That group’s lone survivor, Salaar Salahuddin (Humayun Saeed), a near-indestructible man of action (or so we’re told, but not shown), is given dangerous missions (again, apparently) where he breaks into hidden bunkers to take out rogue scientists and masked terrorists.
Salaar’s modified DNA makes him a perfect soldier — let’s call him Pakistan’s equivalent of Captain America. This is a trait he shares with the son of his commander, Zain (Shehryar Munawwar), now a major with the armed forces, who is born — we’re told at least thrice — with unknown superhuman abilities.
Zain is brought into C12 — and in time too, as a masked sociopathic villain Qataan (Adnan Jaffar) plans to release a deadly pathogen in Karachi that would turn people against each other. At the virus’ outbreak, we see Qataan scaring the daylights out of a young boy who works at a local dhaba. By the time he finishes his monologue (“When I look into their faces,” he says, “all I can see is anger”), a plate of biryani is spilled on screen, and the restaurant becomes a burning rubble. Qataan, quite smug with what he achieved, is a villain with meagre ambitions; his biggest crime that day was to ruin perfectly fine food, and burn down a food joint.
Despite a perfunctory set of events that filled up the running time — a terrorist strike on a high-rise building and a strategised military attack on the villains’ facility that is out of the country’s jurisdiction — the narrative feels stilted and uninvolving.
Lead and supporting characters such as Salaar and Zara (Syra Shehroz) — a doctor who also happens to be the main strategist, code de-crypter and just about everything else in C12’s nearly-deserted facility — pop in and out of the story without logic or reason. The only consistent aspect of the movie is its clumsiness.
At times, Project Ghazi feels like it was undershot and the editor had to make do with what he had (he seems to have a thing for shoehorning split-second inserts to ruin what could have been okay performances).
Munawwar, as the new recruit with untapped potential, showcases the fine acting ability of a beautifully-lustered piece of wood. To show his versatility, the actor offsets his constant state of gruff with a sly smirk two or three times in the entire movie. Zain’s unvarying state of anger — which, as far as I’ve deduced, has no legitimate reason — at least makes you laugh. One particular scene opens with Zain standing at the window with an angry frown. Dr. Ziyaad, who also happens to be his estranged uncle, walks up to him. They talk. When Dr. Ziyaad leaves, he turns to the window again, resuming the same posture. Clearly, there was a creative deficit on set that day.
Zain is also a bit of a chauvinist. When he first meets Zara at the C12 HQ, his immediate reaction is: “You’re a woman!” to which she retorts “And you’re a man!”Apparently Ali Raza, the writer, was also in a creative rut that day.
Saeed, notwithstanding his negligibly written role, has the charisma to make the movie appear bearable (he also gets the bulk of the dialogues, including the role of the narrator, so that also tilts the narrative in his favour). Amir Qureshi playing C12’s muscle-bound tech expert had limited screen-time but was a fun addition.
Project Ghazi’s sole saving grace, though, is Adnan Jaffar who adds a theatrical sense of whimsy to his portrayal. A mad man with a Shakespearean tilt. Then again, bad Shakespeare is still Shakespeare, right? Flailing his hands and body in what may appear to be overacting, Jaffar eats up the screen as soon as he takes off his mask. His head constantly tilted one way or the other, his eyes unblinking, his expressions bonkers, his portrayal is actually a sad reminder of the wasted potential of the film.
Published in Dawn, ICON, April 7th, 2019