So what if ISPR funded ‘Waar’?

It’s time we took a deep breath and told Mr Lashari, ‘Great job’.

Asad Rahim Khan October 21, 2013
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

Between gunfire, bomb blasts, mood music, more bomb blasts, and the Lux Style Awards accents of some of its cast, there’s no doubting Waar is one noisy film. But as audiences everywhere sway in and out with the mono-named Shaan, seen here as a jaded army major — not jaded enough to refuse missions anyone else in their right mind would — there also came the sound of records being broken.

Waar scored Eid’s biggest-ever haul, and with reason. The movie understands the pop culture it panders to: the bad guy sneers at Pakistanis as ‘Pakis’, messiahs named Khan try to make quasi-Kalabagh Dams (while torn between village wives and modern mistresses), agents rescue Chinese engineers, and policemen throw themselves in the line of fire while singing the Qaumi Tarana.

Yes, it’s sheer entertainment, a ball of sleek camera cuts draped in white and green. Had the noise ended there, we could have all cheered for Pakistani cinema and gone home. But it didn’t; parts of the press were abuzz with anger. Internet People too fistfought back and forth with semi-coherent one-liners, much like the climax. A cliche-ridden action movie, of all things, became a point of contention.

From Misbah to Malala, Pakistanis it seems just can’t appreciate a good thing. Yes, there are trends the film could have spun around than cop out to: relief workers have hidden agendas, majors enjoy torturing English-medium villains as much as Dick Cheney, and Pakistani terrorists are in the pay of RAW ballerinas (USD accepted).

Yet, none of this figured as a major critique. Waar, most critics screamed, is an ISPR ego project. Not true, director Bilal Lashari said, Waar wasn’t funded by The Boys — that was another film called Glorious Resolve (as with Operations Gibraltar, Righteous Path, and Way Unto Salvation, ISPR titles often have an Old Testament ring to them). Let’s say though that it was ISPR-funded.

Which begs the question, so what? If a liberal outfit was to pump as many millions into a movie where Baloch rebels storm parliament, repeal the Objectives Resolution, reintroduce Comparative Religion class to LGS 55-Main, and climax in a Mexican standoff with Maya Khan … chances are we’d watch that too. The point is the film industry should breathe again, and that local talent find a reason to stay local.

Second, if chest-thumping explosion-fests aren’t your thing, support another project. Or try Bol. Guaranteed to make you miserable — Atif Aslam gets the easily preyed-upon Saifoo Jaani a job with truck drivers; Saifoo Jaani is preyed upon by truck drivers — Bol is packed with social evils. But like Waar, it gets the discussion going. More interest means more movies and ultimately more range.

Third, we need a narrative. There’s a reason a land that entertains female feticide, Maoist rebellions, and Muslim-culling Modi as PM material can call itself India Shining. It’s the same reason Ahmed Rashid’s cheery books on Pakistan sell so well, titles ranging from Descent Into Chaos to On the Brink.

It’s called projection. Bollywood’s sheer pull, the way it winks at audiences abroad while moving the masses at home, is a thing to behold and, yes, to imitate (in terms of influence, not saas-bahu serials that send PEMRA into a tizzy). From Karan Johar’s saccharine escapism to hardboiled border epics post-Kargil, Bollywood knows the power of a good story or, if nothing else, a well-shot one. A country with no foreign minister, no foreign policy, no tourism, and no narrative, does not. And when our own president says Pakistan will improve — only because it can’t get any worse — well, we need all the PR help we can get.

That’s where Waar comes in. As with Khuda Ke Liye on dogma, or Bol on birth control, Waar has a core message: terrorism is bad for Pakistan, and Pakistanis require protection from that terrorism. Surely, logic this obvious needs explaining to the blind alone?

Well, look around us. The response to the shahadat of Israrullah Gandapur was vague words about vague talks with vague outfits, none of which made sense. God rest his soul — the next news-cycle will hit, more people will die, and we’ll say stupid things again. Implement that damn APC, the PTI says.

But what was the APC? A bunch of uncles with waistcoats and water bottles, suggesting talking to much younger, much harder, much sharper desperadoes. Doesn’t sound like a lot to implement, but the PTI’s won five years to figure that out. A law minister dies, and the law dies with him.

In another lawless place in ’79, Iran was dropping to its knees before the strange, surreal charisma of Ruhollah Khomeini. A faithful few even broke into the American embassy with wire-cutters, taking 52 Americans hostage. It would become a year-long episode that ruined Jimmy Carter and humiliated America.

Rescue choppers ran into each other, soldiers died, and Khomeini’s legend burned itself into the Iranian consciousness. Not content with forcing him from office, Iran waited until Carter physically stepped out of the White House before releasing the prisoners — right into the welcoming arms of Ronald Reagan, B-movie hero to the very end.

But 22 years later, a film called Argo was sending theatre-goers cartwheeling into the streets. Directed by Ben Affleck, Argo dealt with the Canadian ambassador’s real-life helping of Americans out of Tehran during the hostage crisis. The film instead hailed the CIA as saviour against mobs of manic Persians, and won Best Picture gold for it.

Even poor Jimmy put in an appearance to say, “90 percent of the contributions to the ideas … was Canadian, and the movie gives almost full credit to the CIA”. But that wasn’t the point: one of the saddest setbacks in American history became a feel-good adventure co-starring Bryan Cranston. Projection at its purest.

While Bilal Lashari gets grilled about the Inter-Services, Ben Affleck gets to play Batman. Perhaps it’s time we took a deep breath and told Mr Lashari, ‘Great job’. Narratives require building. Terrorism requires fighting. Less ISPR, like better accents, can wait.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2013.

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MAK | 7 years ago | Reply

@Lalit How many wars has the Indian Army won ? Remember the India-China war of 1962 and how your Indian Army got thrashed by the Chinese Army ???

Maqsood Kayani | 7 years ago | Reply

Pentagon funds and provides military hardware / personnel (aircraft-carriers, jet-fighters, pilots, tanks, air-bases) to any Hollywood war-movie that depicts US Armed Forces in a good light, as saviors and defenders. But Pentagon wanted Richard Gere's 'An Officer And A Gentleman' to cut a scene that showed a naval cadet commit suicide out of depression. The movie's producers refused to cut the scene and Pentagon with-held / refused the funds and military hardware resulting in a very low-budget, self-financed 'An Officer And A Gentleman' but nonetheless an excellent movie depicting the true goings-on in the US armed forces.

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