x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Action movie Waar has ‘a dangerous narrative’

Pakistani-made film suggests that the country's terrorism problem is not home-grown but a sinister plot by outside enemies, particularly long-term adversary India.

People leave an Islamabad cinema after watching the Pakistani movie Waar. BK Bangash / AP
People leave an Islamabad cinema after watching the Pakistani movie Waar. BK Bangash / AP

ISLAMABAD // Waar seems ordinary enough as an action movie — Pakistani forces fighting terrorism, a James Bond-like character hunting an assassin, a woman seducing a patriot.

But the Pakistani-made film playing to packed houses these days has some critics worried, because it suggests that the country’s terrorism problem is not home-grown, but a sinister plot by outside enemies, particularly long-term adversary India.

The film opened four weeks ago and for a time was playing on all screens at many multiplexes. It will likely be the year’s top grosser. Its action sequences and cinematography stand out and should give a boost to the country’s struggling cinema industry.

Waar seems to have hit a chord with a public that widely believes Pakistan is viewed from abroad as a perpetuator of terrorism, rather than a victim measured in the tens of thousands of people killed in bombings and shootings over the past decade.

The movie opens with a man illegally entering Pakistan and teaming up with an assassin. Both supposedly are working for India and are being hunted by security agents led by an army major whose family was killed by the assassin.

“It tried to deliver the message that Pakistan is not a terrorist country as it is being portrayed all over the world,” said the moviegoer Anum Dar.

“The central idea is very good,” said Shama Kazmi, 24. “The act of terrorism that we are facing is basically not done by the Pakistanis. An external factor is involved.”

But it is a narrative that worries those who wonder how Pakistan can ever defeat militants in its own country if it cannot agree about who is to blame. Pakistanis have a history of perpetuating conspiracy theories that blame problems on “outside forces”. Many believe, for instance, that the Pakistani Taliban leader killed in a drone strike on November 1 was actually a pawn of the US and India.

The movie is “trying to divert attention away from the actual source of the problems. And that’s why I think it’s a dangerous narrative,” said Hasan Zaidi, a Pakistani director who runs the Karachi International Film Festival.

The columnist and cultural critic Nadeem Paracha said the idea that India is to blame for Pakistan’s problems has long been prevalent in Pakistani society, which tends to view itself as a bastion of Islam surrounded by enemies.

Paracha said the idea is especially popular with the young, urban middle class.

“They’ll go and have Burger King and McDonald’s and play their Xbox, and at the same time sound like mini Zia ul Haqs,” he said, referring to the dictator who took power in a 1977 coup and promoted an extremely conservative version of Islam during his decade in office.

But the movie’s director says people may be taking the movie a bit too seriously.

“It’s just a film, the same way that Hollywood has portrayed the good guys and the bad guys. It’s not a documentary,” said Bilal Lashari, 31. “I don’t understand why some people are giving it credit for trying to explain the realities of what’s going on.”

Most Indians have not seen the film, which has not been released in the country, and the Film Certification Board said it had not been asked to review it.

But Waar already has one prominent fan — the Bollywood filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, who said on Twitter that he watched a pirated copy. He later tweeted that in a long telephone chat with Lashari he was “impressed with his humbleness as much as I was with his film Waar”.

* Associated Press