Dear Waar critics, why so serious?

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Depicting a ‘balanced’ narrative isn’t a mainstream film’s responsibility

It seems as if most of Pakistan’s esteemed film critics – some sharing their insights via illustrious publications, others generous enough to do so on social media – have never seen a Pakistani movie, a war movie or in some cases any movie, in their lives. While reading the reviews of Waar, one feels as if Bilal Lashari has filmed a remake of Gadar for the Pakistani cinema aficionados. But here one does not get to see Shaan uprooting hand pumps or driving a truck like Sebastian Vettel drives his Red Bull.

Unfortunately.

A typical critique of the movie goes somewhat like this: Waar is a propaganda movie. The actors have fake English accents. Pakistanis easily believe conspiracy theories so propaganda is dangerous, especially when it is coupled with fake accents. There is propaganda against India and RAW because the bad guys in the movie are Indians. The Pakistani military and police are showed as good guys because Pakistan Army has funded this propaganda movie. Both the good guys and bad guys in the propaganda film have equally fake accents. The end.

All of the above in impeccably woven words and picturesque expression, of course.

But hang on, the military of one country depicted as the good guys, and the intelligence agency of the rival country as the bad guys in an action thriller? Shocking.

Maybe our knowledgeable film critics have been spoilt by the barrage of cinematic masterstrokes that Lollywood churns out on an annual basis. However, for average Joes like me Waar was a ‘slightly’ better cinematic experience than the Gujjar, Jutt and Goonda flicks that have symbolised Pakistani cinema in recent decades. But the latter, of course, never ever tried to portray Indians as bad guys. Ever.

‘Beggars can’t be choosers’ is an aphorism that one can use for Pakistan in most realms. But we’re easily the most high maintenance beggars the world has ever seen.

Let’s get the obvious off the table first: Waar could have been better. The script could have had more continuity and originality and more focus on character development. Some of the actors could’ve done slightly better jobs and if the film had more realism and less clichés it would’ve been better for the overall product as well. Yup, Waar could definitely have been better.

But can anyone really disagree with the fact that how much better Waar already is from even the best that Pakistan cinema has had to offer, is prodigiously more than how much better it needed to be to earn the label of a genuinely world class film?

One fails to comprehend then, as to why the movie critics would prefer to dedicate 95 percent of their reviews (or tweets) deriding Waar for what they deemed were its criminal shortcomings, the most glaring of which was ‘propaganda’.

Castigating a war movie over propaganda is akin to criticising it for promoting violence or guns. Propaganda, like guns, is an integral tool of war. And while wars were fought when there weren’t any guns, not a single war has been fought in human history that was devoid of propaganda. This is precisely why the lion’s share of Hollywood, Bollywood or war films from any other neck of the woods, have skewed narratives. The same goes for a lot of political action-thrillers.

This year’s Olympus Has Fallen, that portrayed what looked like the ‘North Korean Taliban’ targeting the American president and taking over the White House all for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, did not get mauled by the US critics for its propaganda. And yes Waar is easily better than Olympus Has Fallen, a Hollywood movie that had a $70 million budget and starred Morgan Freeman.

Top Gun, The Fall of Berlin, Propaganda, Bon Voyage, Jud Süß and Border are some of the biggest films from their respective countries and were all propaganda movies. Three of the biggest Hollywood successes of last year Argo, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty were all pretty blatant propaganda films.

Again, most war movies propagate propaganda, and show only one side of the picture. Even Clint Eastwood needed to make two different movies to depict the Battle of Iwo Jima showcasing American and Japanese viewpoints separately. And this is because highlighting a ‘balanced’ viewpoint in a war film renders its creation futile, and its constancy with the war genre, questionable.

A ‘neutral’ war film would almost always go down the ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ route, basically becoming an anti-war film.

And it wasn’t as if Waar pretends to unearth any ‘hidden truths’. It depicts what most Pakistanis already believe, what the official stance of the Pakistani government is and puts forward ‘our side of the story’ for the world – hence, the use of the English language in the film.

All those who entered the cinemas believing that India orchestrates terrorism in Pakistan would have left the cinema with the same belief, without any additional ammunition, and those who don’t buy that assertion obviously left the cinemas with their ‘sanity’ intact. However, in the intervening 130 minutes, what both groups of people got was the opportunity to witness some of the best cinematography, action sequences, background score, visual and sound effects in the history of Pakistan cinema to go with the overall entertainment. And entertainment is precisely what the movie had promised and not the depiction of ‘truth’ – probably because it is a mainstream movie and not a documentary.

A question for all those apprehensive about the propaganda in the movie: how many people commenting on Waar in various forums are expressing their gratitude for the film for ‘enlightening them’ about the War on Terror? And how many sound overwhelmed by the cinematic experience conjured by a Pakistani movie? Seemingly, the only people actually affected by Waar’s propaganda are the movie critics clamouring about the aftereffects of the propaganda.

Irony.

Granted, biased narratives need to be replaced by balanced ones, but that is not the responsibility of a mainstream movie. It’s the duty of people in the media and the publications criticising Waar for being too pro-establishment when they have spent decades flying the flags of the military in dictatorial regimes. And who still can’t publish honest pieces about the Pakistan military’s role in the War on Terror, fearing a call from the you know who.

And yet they somehow expected Waar to do that on their behalf.

If you’re hell bent on solely focusing on the narrative presented in the movie, then how about a thumbs up for depicting the Taliban and tribal warlords as terrorists? And how about one for portraying madrassas, where Islam is preached and the Quran is taught, as their sanctuaries? Yes, it might have been too obvious an account for the esteemed critics, but one can’t undermine the importance of putting an anti-Taliban narrative in the mainstream. But while the anti-India propaganda was highlighted in all film critiques, the anti-Taliban ‘propaganda’ was ignored, probably because it goes with the personal viewpoints of the critics.

When you’re critiquing a movie, you’re not supposed to judge it in accordance with your own viewpoint, no matter how well qualified it might be. I might be as patriotic as a cactus plant, and Waar might have instilled as much Pakistani nationalism as Captain America generated American nationalism with me, but I can’t deny that Waar would strike a chord with the Pakistani nationalist.

Waar vied to propagate nationalism and patriotism, which in itself is an inherent part of propaganda. Please don’t put the burden of righting the wrongs of our founding fathers, our government or the military on the young shoulders of Bilal Lashari. All he was supposed to do was make a good film. And he ended up making what without a shadow of a doubt is a landmark for Pakistani cinema.

Anyone disagreeing with that is either incredibly prejudiced or suspiciously fond of watching heroines obliterate farmlands with their heavyweight dancing.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a financial journalist and a cultural critic. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @khuldune.

46 COMMENTS

  1. That’s a very sensible article. At the end It’s all about petriotism. I give my own example. About an year ago I thought about promoting the buzz about this movie here in North America and found web footprint being the best option. Here’s my little contribution slash effort
    http://openbeast.com/3635
    Bottom line is that it’s all out of Petriotism.

  2. Well written… movies shouldn't be on pointing out other…. there are many more topics in the life to describe… we have a great drama industries which highligts great issues of our social life we can use those stories in our filming line up….

  3. I have been sickened for the last few weeks of continuous criticism of WAAR. I haven't seen it yet as not released in uk , but for goodness sake why cant a good thing done in Pakistan be appreciated. I felt so angry by continuous Pakistan bashing by Our so called INTELLECT. It seems pak bashing is a fashion and easy to get noticed also, but its sickning . Kudos for standing up and shutting these DESI GORA sahibs

  4. You have certainly STOLEN WORDS FROM MY MOUTH……………….. the MAIN STREAM NewsPAPER articles look KIDISH in front of your article.

    I want to REBLOG this article………………….. Do I have the permission?

  5. But it was such a badly made film. Zinda Bhaag was way superior, best Pakistani film of the year, even chambaili, a below average film was better than Waar…the problem with this movie is a horrible storyline and even worse dialogues….its wins are the cinematic look and proving that Pakistani audience is.now a cinema going audience. But they won’t fall for this cheap trick anymore

  6. waar is a great film .who cares what the so called critics says, they would always negate any thing in favour of Pakistan.I guess the movie showed correct stance of Pakistan, the so called critics will always criticize which would be in Pakistan,s basket

  7. Oh dear writer of this article – First of all, I am 100% sure that you wrote this article using "Synonyms Feature" of Microsoft word.

    Then, I would like to say you just go away and watch this movie again. It seems that you couldn't understand the theme of the movie WAAR. It has shown all the factors involved in terrorists acts in Pakistan. It enlightens that the external forces are involved in the terrorist acts. HOWEVER, it also shows that all the terrorist acts are being accomplished by the natives of Pakistan. Haven't you seen the full movie? Or you just got bribe to speak against the facts. Aren't you really aware of the external hands behind the terrorist acts in Pakistan???

    • wow ….. you are seriously demented…. It's a freaking MOVIE…. not a bloody documentary….. so take it as a movie……
      Did you read the article?? The movie shows that the acts of terrorism are perpetrated by Pakistani Natives and Yes they are….. Where do you think the suicide bombers and the attackers come from… they are Pakistani, albeit lost pakistani's. Where do you think they come from??? Are they imported in Containers from abroad?…. They are Pakistanis controlled by a handfull of foreign controllers using their greed.

      For god's sake grow up and stop being a jealous bugger..

    • How I really want to know how you know thw writer used the synonyms feature? looks like somebody else has been using it quite often too 😛

  8. Probably the best review of Waar. As someone pointed out on Imdb, compared to other lollywood films it gets an 8 or probably even 9. But as a "standalone film" I would probably give it a 5. Reasons:
    1. Very bad dialogues
    2. Bad screenplay
    3. Mediocre acting
    4. Poor editing
    I may add that I have no problems with the story line. With the kind of effort put in production-wise, this film could have been so much better but for the aforementioned points

  9. when indian movei makers pointed out The pakistan as terrorist country then why no one talk and critics like this????????????????????????why pakistani media fasing this wrong critics? did no one see the indian movie how they pointed out Muslims as Tarrorist.Actually india afraid from pakistan's convincing manner movie which containing real factor behind this wrose terrorism.I just want to say them "The Timid" because they do'nt want to accept and face the reality.

  10. All the critics can go to hell!! Waar is an awsum movie and it's done roaring business on the box office!! It doesn't matter if there were sum mistakes with editing or watever. cant we just admit the fact that its an unbelievably outstanding start for pakistani cinema! isn't it obvious that after this, the director is gonna improve and make an even better movie next time!! Y do people always luk at the half of the cup that's empty?? Y not the half that's full?????

  11. Excellent movie…..10 out of 10 to bilal lashari and his team members….
    Indian Media Criticized Pakistani Movie WAAR only bcos it exposes them and their back-stabbing to the world. so the only thing to remember is that……

    “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” ― Mark Twain

  12. a great movie tottaly bakwaa above there i had seen the movie it is master piece a good movie and we are pakistani made for love we are not indians like them we are not partials it's india which have taken duty to make movies against pakistan so WAAR is veru good movie and PAKISTAN is great who cares about your pain

  13. i remember once in 2000 i went to watch shaans ghar kab aoge in melody cinema which was fuctional at that time and at that time his dialoug dilivery style was same as in this movie after that came tere pyar main his next anti indian movie again same style of dialouge dilivery and now in waar he still dilivered the same style i wonder when will he leave that style

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