Waar is an attempt to tell the world that the armed forces of Pakistan are doing everything in their capacity to curb the menace of terrorism and its intelligence agencies are fighting, behind the scenes, against the enemies of the state.
Waar, directed by Bilal Lashari, has raised the bar for Pakistani films, setting the cinematography benchmark even higher. The English-language film features Shaan, Ayesha Khan, Shamoon Abbasi, Meesha Shafi and Ali Azmat. Although Zinda Bhaag, another film from Pakistan directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, became an Oscar nominee, Waar received unprecedented public appreciation because of its patriotic theme.
The movie revolves around Major Mujtaba (Shaan Shahid), who is a retired army officer and specializes in counterintelligence. After an Indian spy Ramal (Shamoon Abbasi) arrives in Pakistan and the authorities learn about his devious schemes, they force Mujtaba to come out of retirement and help them catch Ramal. Although Mujtaba doesn't want to be a part of the game anymore, it is his desire for vengeance that makes him rethink his decision. The major had lost his wife and son in a bomb blast a few years ago and Ramal, he is told, was the one who had planned the attack.
Actor and singer Meesha Shafi plays the role of Laxmi, an Indian spy disguised as a social worker, who takes orders from her superiors in India and directs Ramal about his objectives. Singer Ali Azmat makes his big-screen debut in the role of Ejaz Khan, a politician who wants to build a dam to protect Pakistan's future. His character reminds one of Imran Khan because of similarities in their body language and his revolutionary vision to bring about a change in the country.
Although the film has a strong cast, it seems more like a collection of good shots put together. Many scenes simply do not have any link or coherence. There is no explanation for some actions taken by the characters. For instance, you are left guessing what could be the motive behind the killing of Ejaz Khan and his wife. It is also strange to see Taliban commanders joining hands with an Indian spy to wreak havoc in the country. Similarly, no explanation is given about how an Indian spy becomes the Taliban's associate in the first place.
These and other unanswered questions in the plot lead to ambiguous situations which make the movie look like a compilation of well-executed scenes having little connection. This is probably because Bilal Lashari is still inexperienced in film direction and Waar is his directorial debut.
Some movie critics may term the film as an ISPR-funded propaganda, but director Lashari refutes all this. Written by Hassan Waqas Rana, the film was screened in 42 cinemas across Pakistan and bagged Rs.11.4 million on the opening day. This means that Waar did strike a chord with the audience.
From a broader perspective, Waar is an attempt to tell the world that the armed forces of Pakistan are doing everything in their capacity to curb the menace of terrorism and its intelligence agencies are fighting, behind the scenes, against the enemies of the state. The movie focuses on the serious matter of foreign hands destabilizing the country and perhaps that is why people think it is military propaganda.
Regardless of what the critics say, Bilal Lashari's venture needs to be praised. His action sequences are commendable. The opening scene, for instance, where Ehtesham (Hamza Ali Abbasi) and his team infiltrate a terrorist hideout to rescue a Chinese looks like a scene out of a Hollywood film. It requires a certain level of vision to execute something like this.
The Waar plot is a straightforward one with Major Mujtaba chasing Ramal and the intelligence agencies trying their best to protect the country. There may be loopholes in the story but the acting is mostly flawless. Shaan takes most of the screen time and delivers his part with perfection. His expressions, body language and dialogue delivery shows why he is still Pakistan's most sought-after actor. Although Ayesha Khan, who plays the role of an intelligence officer working under Shaan, is a good actress, her performance on the big screen is not up to the mark.
The proficiency with which actors use firearms, especially in the scene where Mujtaba is displaying his skills in the firing range, is a textbook scene that sends chills down the spine.
The writer is a former Assistant Editor of SouthAsia Magazine. He freelances on regional and social issues.