Pakistani film Waar looks at recent history through different eyes
When it comes to films about contemporary events, Pakistan is not an unfamiliar name to audiences.
“In all the movies you watch – be it Iron Man or Thor or whatever else – there is always a mention of Pakistan,” says the Pakistani singer and actor Ali Azmat. “That mention is always in a negative capacity and that irritates me. I wanted to play a part in showing the world what our point of view is, as Pakistanis, and Waar has allowed me to do that.”
Azmat was speaking at a press conference preceding the Dubai International Film Festival screening of his latest film, Waar, on Thursday. The movie is currently playing in cinemas across the country.
The film, whose title can be translated as “strike” or “blow”, is Pakistan’s first English-language action thriller and looks at what is happening as the country is caught in the crossfire of an international war on terror.
“We live in confusing, interesting times. When Pakistan is depicted in a negative light, it’s not any one single country that does that, but it’s the war industry as a whole,” explains Azmat. “This is my chance to step up and show the audience why these games are being played.
“We need to have our narrative out in the world and show everyone that we are not just terrorists. We need to show them that we are a normal as any one in New York and that we have fears and hopes like other people do. We are hoping to get our narrative out to combat the established mindset about Pakistan.”
Azmat plays a politician in the film and shares the screen with the actors Shaan Shahid and Shamoon Abbasi, as well as newer talent including Meesah Shafi, Hamza Ali Abbasi and Ayesha Khan.
The film – directed by Bilal Lashari (who also acts in the film) and produced by Hassan Waqas Rana – received tremendous public support and financial success in its home country since its release on the first day of Eid Al Adha.
It broke the box office record for first-day collections, previously held by the recent Bollywood film Chennai Express. Today, with a total box office of almost Dh7 million, it is the highest-grossing Pakistani film of all time. Despite the commercial success, film critics in Pakistan have taken Waar to task by applauding its technical finesse but criticising its narrative.
“Waar is primarily a work of entertainment,” says the director Lashari. “You can choose to agree with the narrative or you can choose to disagree. The former will walk out happy and the latter will not. I never said this film will change your life. It’s not even intending to.”
The general reception of the film by Pakistanis in the UAE has so far been positive.
“The story is of absolute relevance, portraying the geopolitical situation Pakistan is currently facing, with Hollywood-style action sequences using real army gunships, which has never been done before, making Waar a must-watch for all action lovers,” says the Pakistani diplomatic consultant Mobisher Rabbani, a UAE resident.
“Pakistan is seeing a revival of its cinema, where young producers and directors who have learnt all the tricks of the trade abroad are returning to Pakistan to make movies.
“Ever-growing talent combined with the frustration that international media is not giving Pakistan its due [for its] sacrifices – in fact, is portraying it in a negative light – is bringing out such vocal movies and that is a good thing.”