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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Movie Review: Waar (Dawn News Article)

- Courtesy Photo
- Courtesy Photo
Article Author: MOHAMMAD KAMRAN JAWAID (Dawn News)
At about forty minutes into “Waar”, I was compelled to ‘tweet’ MY status; the expletive-free version here pretty much asks the same question: when would “Waar” start thrilling. The answer: pretty much never.
As the first of what I presume many future plotless, scriptless actioners from Pakistani New Wave, director Bilal Lashari’s long-in-production actioner is as ineffective as any late night B-movie on counter-terrorism units working against the clock to stop local and international villainy. Only here, the clock never starts. The climatic brawl actually has a timed-bomb ticking away – not that it makes a squat of difference.
The idea behind Mr. Lashari’s big-budget fare is fairly on the money: a scarred one-man-army ghost-op (Shaan Shahid playing Mujtaba) is called back to active duty to save the country from a nefarious cosplaying bad guy (Shamoon Abbasi), who killed his family. In with Mujtaba is intelligence ace Javeria (Ayesha Khan), her gun-happy brother Ehtesham (Hamza Ali Abbasi), a lot of Urdu subtitles (the movie’s native language is English), and an overstretched running time.
From what it appears on the screen, the screenplay by producer Hassan Waqas Rana is a codswallop of instances taped together to form narrative coherency. Their inadequacy often functions against Mr. Lashari’s natural, and very apparent, cinematic knack.
- Courtesy Photo
- Courtesy Photo
“Waar” has adequate cinematography and editing by Mr. Lashari (film anything in RED’s digital cinematic resolution and you’ll automatically get the clean grandness of a feature film). The lighting design becomes apparent in a few noticeable moments and the production design’s lavishness is limited to rented townhouses, apartments and a crumbling brick headquarters of our homebred terrorists.
If these benchmarks are taken into account, amongst Mr. Lashari’s own insistence to use real firepower and weaponry, then “Waar” certainly is a ‘showy’ enterprise; in reality though, it is an exercise of unwarranted overextending.
Ok, I can imagine the hate-mail pouring in right now: “do too much, and it’s overextending; do too little, and you’re underachieving. At least applaud the revival”. I agree, to a degree. There is a significant difference between making an okayish product and an intelligent one (case in point: “Josh” versus “Zinda Bhaag”; and then there was “Main Hoon Shahid Afridi”, a showboat entertainer). Superficial looks never made any ‘Wood’ (Holly, Bolly) better.
“Waar” dawdles through its pre-intermission time by shifting through Mujtaba’s grunts (and the cast’s deliberate use of English accents), some backstories and a few bits of action (the first-strike in a back-alley terrorist hideout that opens the movie is gripping).
- Courtesy Photo
- Courtesy Photo
In between them is Eijaz Khan (Ali Azmat), a politician who wants to make a dam and serve Pakistan. His is a man who has had a moment of weakness (in the form of socio-activist played by Meesha Shafi), but is still strong-willed about his responsibilities – and maybe his own dreams of greatness. At one moment, standing alone in his balcony, he opens his arms wide to take the applause of an invisible crowd of millions. Like every young-blood politician, he has an agenda and watching Mr. Azmat work his character, as ‘real actors’ try to keep up, is a strange, if unexpected experience.
Unlike Eijaz Khan’s plans, “Waar’s” agenda is clear to a lesser degree. The story, the plot, the resolve – in fact everything – hangs on a failing thread.
A handful of scenes show Mr. Abbasi’s counter-intelligence specialist named Rumal, slipping into Pakistan, snapping people’s necks, or dancing a half-hearted tango with Ms. Shafi (Spoiler alert? I don’t think so. The clip is in the trailers). Rumal’s dread is never fully elaborated, other than what we’re told of him.
Mr. Shahid is just too stale as Mujtaba; our interest in him is limited to his skills in the field, and that too in trifling quantities.
When the movie opens, we see Mujtaba interrogating two terrorists in a bad-cop/bad-cop routine. The full scene slides its way deep into “Waar’s” second act (if there is an act structure here), and is the only scene that helps let out a guffaw. This brief moment of excellence never surfaces again.
- Courtesy Photo
- Courtesy Photo
Instead, what we see often are episodes like this: At one instance, late in the movie, we see Mujtaba jump off a military chopper in daylight, as he makes his way to the main terrorist’s hideout, bumping off any antihero he bumps into. He even saves a couple of children (who we had no idea were there in the first place), while the rest of the covert action team serves as cannon-fodder backup.
Mujtaba gets two more shots amidst some more grieving, but they hardly matter, because like John McClane, or any of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s action-avatars, the villains are literally dead-meat when Mujtaba walks into a scene.
Speaking of action scenes, the Lahore Police Academy attack, the core foundation of “Waar’s” inspiration, is one of the few gripping moments in the movie’s 130 minute running time. The layout and the execution of the attack, whether fact or fictionalized, has the right impact.
Coming back to the cast, Ms. Khan sobs, threatens and gruff’s as much as Mr. Shahid, though to what exact effect I am perplexed. Her feminine sensuality is a seeming addition to an otherwise boys-and-their-toys flick. Ms. Khan’s on-screen brother is more captivating.
Akin to his recent stint in “Main Hoon Shahid Afridi”, Mr. Ali plays an immediately likable character who also has no real substance. Mr. Ali has few dialogues and two action scenes, but “Waar” deliberately keep him on the sidelines, as if the production was unsure of wasting Mr. Shahid’s spotlight. It would have been better if it did – or if Mr. Shahid was written with originality or panache (at the end of the day, I doubt we got to know much about Mujtaba other than what was ordered at us).
- Courtesy Photo
- Courtesy Photo
One of my other biggest beef with “Waar” (apart from its threadbare story-layout) is its language: a movie about Pakistan, its lingering terrorist threats and valor of armed forces shouldn’t center itself on a foreign language. Even if ‘some’ of us – especially the ones in high-society – do find it better to forsake our native language, it doesn’t mean that a mainstream commercial movie should cater specifically to that small demographic. Everyone else – even if they can afford a Rs. 500 (plus) ticket – isn’t chopped liver, and new blood filmmakers should note that down in big screaming letters. Catering to the international market is one thing, but relying solely on it is either ignorance or arrogance.
The least “Waar’s” producers could do is dub the movie; on second thought, that would make everything more awkward.
Starring: Shaan Shahid, Shamoon Abbasi, Ali Azmat, Ayesha Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi.
Directed by Bilal Lashari, Produced by Hassan Waqas Rana, Written by Hassan Waqas Rana, Music by Amir Munawar with Cinematography and Editing by Mr. Lashari.
Released by Mandviwalla Entertainment and ARY Films. “Waar” is rated ‘A’ for sensuality and brief kick-ass action. The baddies die, obviously. So do you, at one point.

Pakistan's first big-budget action film (Al Jazeera Article)

The Islamabad premiere of the much anticipated film Waar was a rare night of celebrity and glamour in the Pakistani capital.

The red carpet was littered with big-name stars, well-known politicians and fashionable socialites.
Waar – which means "to strike" in Urdu - is the country's first big-budget action film.
It's based on the real-life events following a 2009 attack on a top police academy by the Taliban.
The multi-million-dollar film is one of at least 21 feature-length film releases this year and is widely seen as part of a revival of Pakistan's struggling film-making industry.
Pakistani cinema, known as Lollywood, after the eastern city of Lahore where it was historically based, has steadily declined since the late 1970s.
It was during that time the then military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, launched an Islamisation agenda that introduced a rigid censorship code, all but ending what has been described as the "golden era" of the industry.
Back then more than 200 Pakistani films were made annually, today it is less than one-fifth of that.
Adding to the challenges, from a peak of 700 cinemas operating across the country, that number is now just under 200.
Shaan Shahid, lead actor of Waar, says the film has the potential to dramatically change the industry which has struggled for decades.
"I really feel that with the release of Waar, the Pakistani film industry has arrived. We've received a lot of support making this movie and I think it will inspire young filmmakers to come out and make their own movies," he said.
Waar is one of around two dozen Pakistani film releases this year - including Zinda Bhaag - the country's first entry to the Academy Awards' foreign-language category in 50 years.
Many see this as an encouraging sign that the industry has turned a corner. But one of the main challenges facing Pakistani film-makers is being able to raise enough money to fund their projects.
Film-making is expensive, and with audiences mainly limited to a handful of major cities, it is not always easy to turn a profit.
Iram Praveen Bilal, a Pakistani film-maker, believes it will take at least four to five years before the film industry becomes lucrative to investors.
"In India, if you are investing, you can recoup the money on opening weekend for certain budgets. You can't say that about Pakistan cinema. You need a certain film of a certain budget of a genre that you know that the public will watch."
It is a gamble the makers of Waar are no doubt hoping will pay off with record box-office receipts.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Waar beats domestic box office record with opening day take of Rs11.4m

Waar opened on 42 screens across the country. PHOTO:PUBLICITY
KARACHI: The most anticipated movie of the year, Waar, opened on the first day of Eidul Azha on 42 screens across Pakistan and beat the box office record for an opening day take of Rs11.4 million.
With Rs11,397,930 in ticket sales, Waar broke the previous record set by the Shahrukh Khan-starrer Chennai Express, which had mustered around Rs9 million on the first day of exhibition earlier in the year.
Figures from all the 42 screens on which the Shaan-starrer Waar opened have not yet come in and the overall tally for the action film is expected to rise further. The film cost $2.5 million to make and is expected to be distributed in 25 countries.
Waar, which has seen most cinemas booked out for the entirety of its opening week, is expected to rake in Rs55 million in its first week on current trends. If it manages to do that, it will beat Chennai Express’ all time high first week take by a few millions. It will also make it the highest grossing domestic film of the year, out-earning the other blockbuster, Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi, which earned Rs55.4 million.
Waar’s first week on the box office has been helped by the unusually long Eid holidays and a weekend immediately afterwards.

Pakistani film Waar shows India as cause of nation’s problems (Hindustan Times Article)

Coinciding with the release of War Chhod Na Yar on the Indian side, comes a Pakistani movie called Waar which has an entirely different story-line. Opening to cinemas on Eid this week, Waar is a movie about Pakistan’s war on terrorism and how India is behind all the terrorist activities that take place in Pakistan.
Relying heavily on stereotypes that exist in Pakistani media already, Waar is a story about one Major Mujhtaba, a retired army officer who had taken an early retirement from the forces due to personal reasons. This lead role is played by the country’s top actor, Shaan.
A special task force of the police is trying to tackle terrorism in the tribal areas but there comes a time when they realize that Pakistan is about to be hit by a terrorist attack and none but the retired Major Ehtesham can lead such a complicated operation.
The two villans in the movie that emerge are the local politicians (there are look alikes of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif) and RAW agents, who come in different shapes and sizes.
The two RAW agents Ramal and Laxmi are the primary cause of most trouble in Pakistan. The movie shows them behind political murders, suicide bombings and even kidnapping. There is another RAW agent who works as a social worker by day and honey-traps willing politicians by nights.
With such a  predictable story line, some observers say that Pakistani producers are using the formula of Indian films of the 80’s which rely heavily on propaganda and patriotism. The fact that the movie has funding from the Pakistan Army through its public relations arm also helps explain its plot, they add.
At the same time, technically Waar is better than most Pakistani movies and is also the country’s most expensive movie made to date.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Making a Big Budget Movie in Pakistan (Wall Street Interviewed Bilal Lashari)

A still of Shaan Shahid as Mujtaba from the film “Waar.”
The biggest budget film to hit Pakistan’s cinemas arrives on screens in the country Wednesday. “Waar,” which means “to strike” in Urdu, is a slick and fast-paced action film centering around Pakistan’s fight against terrorism.
The film took more than three years to make and cost around US$2.2 million, a paltry sum by international standards but huge in comparison to other films in Pakistan which usually cost less than US$25,000 to make, according to Hassan Rana, writer and producer of “Waar.”
Mr. Rana, and director Bilal Lashari, hope that big guns and heroes with even bigger biceps, will help the film tell Pakistan’s side of the war of terror. There are currently plans to distribute the film in 25 countries.
The Wall Street Journal met with Mr. Lashari to find out more about the film, which he says is providing a much-needed boost to Pakistan’s moribund film industry.
Edited excerpts:
The Wall Street Journal: Why did you decide to make a film about counter terrorism in Pakistan?
Bilal Lashari: Basically it’s an action film and it’s intended to be more of a cinematic experience than a classroom experience. If you want to make an action film in Pakistan, counter terrorism happens to be a very important and relevant backdrop. It’s a theme and it’s a story that we want to tell to people in Pakistan and people outside of Pakistan. And at the same time we wanted to give them quality entertainment.
WSJ: How do you think the film will be received in Pakistan?
Mr. Lashari: The reaction has already been pretty overwhelming just from the trailers. I think that they will be proud of this film. It is a really slick looking high-production value film, and I think that it will inspire a lot of people in Pakistan. I hope it’s going to do a lot for the film industry as a whole, as well as get an important story from Pakistan out to the rest of the world.
Off Road Studios
The director, Bilal Lashari, at the Karachi premier of the movie.
WSJ: How do you think the international reaction will differ?
Mr. Lashari: The world is more receptive to stories from Pakistan than ever before, and the film naturally has an audience because of the topic. The fact that it is primarily in English should also provide a decent audience internationally.
WSJ: Do you expect the film to provoke any controversy?
Mr. Lashari: I don’t personally find anything in this film to be too controversial. But a little bit of controversy isn’t a bad thing. I hope the film will start debates. But overall I don’t think that people in Pakistan will focus as much on the content as on the cinematic experience. 
WSJ: The main hero of the film, Mujtaba, is not only fighting terrorism but he is also fighting with the loss of his wife and son in a terrorist attack. How did you develop his character?
Mr. Lashari: We added the family element to his character later on. We needed to give the character a little more motivation, to give him that past and something that he needed to get over in order to start on this new journey of hunting down the terrorist. It is also something that people can relate to in Pakistan. A lot of people have lost family members to terrorism in Pakistan, and in the film Mujtaba is trying to overcome his past in order to put his country before his family. The country itself is the reason to move on and this is something that people in Pakistan will relate to. We are very emotional and very patriotic people.
WSJ: Do you think that Pakistan today it lacking these sorts of heroes?
Mr. Lashari: Yes, the lack of heroes is one of the problems that Pakistan is facing right now. People need heroes that they can look up to. So many exist in this country, but their stories are not out there. While making this film I had the chance to interact with a lot of people in the armed forces and their stories are incredible. They’ve lost their friends and their family members but they still keep going on and keep fighting that enemy. Mujtaba’s journey in the film reflects the stories of a lot of people in Pakistan. It’s a film so it’s going to be more intense and sensationalized, but I do think that people will be able to relate to him.
WSJ: The film claims to be inspired by real events, how so?
Mr. Lashari: It was inspired by an attack on the Manawan Police Academy in Lahore in 2009, but it might be a little misleading to say that the whole entire film is based on that. Originally, the film was supposed to be more about that one event, but with time it ended up changing. We also linked in a couple of other real stories, like the rescue of the Chinese engineer.
WSJ: What’s next for you?
Mr. Lashari: At the moment I’m just enjoying the reaction to the film. I’m talking to a few people about the next project, which is definitely going to be something epic but I don’t want to give it away right now. Right now, I just want to take some time to get this film out of my system because I’ve been living it for over three years.

Waar vs Boss: Shaan beats Akshay at screen space

While Boss will be showcased on 35 screens across Pakistan, Waar gets an edge with 45 screens. PHOTOS: FILE
KARACHI: After Ishq Khuda’s battle against Chennai Express on Eidul Fitr, which was eventually (and predictable) won by the undefeated king of Bollywoood SRK, this Eid will also see another cinematic war between India and Pakistan. Bilal Lashari’s much-awaited Waar that stars Lollywood’s only reining actor Shaan will be facing Khiladi Akhsay Kumar’s Boss. Although, Kumar hasn’t faced much success on the box-office in recent times, he has a huge pool of fans in the country. Nonetheless, Waar has been in the news since its inception and is clearly one of the most significant movies to come out of Pakistan on the theme of terrorism. The film promises to show some technology-driven, thrilling action sequences and is made in English, a feature that has created quite a buzz among local audiences.
While Boss will be showcased on 35 screens across the country, Waar will lead with 45 screens. Waar was earlier slated for a 53 screens release all across Pakistan but has now been allotted 45 screens whereas the exhibitor interest towards Boss has increased the number drastically, giving it a great exhibition overall. Surely, their on screen battle will be something to look forward to.
Both films will benefit from each other’s footfall. But given that some of the most highly-grossing screens are also owned by the distributors of Waar, the film has a definite box office advantage over Boss. One can also not undermine Kumar’s star power and the crazy gimmicks that seem to be creating an interest in the film. The box office’s love for the Akshay-Sonakshi duo will play a pivotal role in attracting audiences to cinemas — something thatWaar might fail at doing. While the use of English language is intriguing for Waar, it also acts as a drawback as not everybody in Pakistan will opt for a feature film that is not in Urdu or Punjabi.
Though the returns are not expected to be as great as they were with Chennai Express on Eidul Fitr, it will definitely be interesting to see the total box office collection that the two films will earn together.

Main Hoon Shahid Afridi gets pirated run at local cable networks

Local film-makers unite in fight against piracy.
While Bollywood films are regularly aired on television by cable operators merely days after their cinema releases, the practice of airing Pakistani films on cable is not as popular. So, it came as a shock when the country’s most-hyped film Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (MHSA) was leaked online by the seventh week of its release while it was still running in cinemas.
“Luckily, my film had completed its run so the loss was minimal,” says Humayun Saeed, producer and lead actor of MHSA.  “But I think this has been a learning experience,” he adds. Saeed suspects that the DVD screener was linked to the editing studio run by Azam Khan, who had a copy of the movie. The latter had passed away leaving the doors open for someone to possibly leak the film for a small amount of money.
Saeed says that he filed a case with the FIA (which deals with cyber crimes) and Pemra but the response has been negligible. “I really don’t know what to do. I guess I can only ask the operators and people to think for the country on a whole,” says Saeed. “When I make my second film, I will check with the distributor and see how we can fill these gaps and be more careful,” he claims.
With the government ignoring an issue that threatens an industry on the brink of revival, film-makers have decided to become proactive. Ishq Khuda maker Shehzad Rafique has approached Saeed to coordinate a meeting with DG Pemra over future piracy issues.
Legal ambiguities
Owner of Mandviwalla Entertainment, Nadeem Mandviwalla says that piracy and censorship are intertwined. He feels the two reflect an overall hypocrisy towards cinema in the country in that while cinema censorship has been scrutinised, piracy remains unresolved. He highlights that cinema is not the only market for films, with other sources such as DVD, television, satellite and mobile phones also available. These are platforms where piracy and illegal content thrive, but seem to escape the law conveniently. “Imagine how disappointed someone like Saeed would be after he had spent a couple of years putting in so much work into his film? This trend will only discourage a market from developing,” asserts Mandviwalla. Clearly, the only place where regulation has become strict is in the censor board, which mainly controls cinema content.
Along with the government’s lack of interest in tackling piracy, which can have damaging effects on an industry that is still in its revival stage, film-makers also feel that the existing legal framework is very limited when it comes to piracy issues.
Imran Kazmi, whose film Siyaah was released on a smaller scale, says that there is little trust in the authorities to guarantee security of films. He adds that it should be ensured that at least in bigger cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, privacy laws are strictly enforced.
“We are basically told to just go to ‘authorities’. We are not sure who [it is that is] responsible to take action. Just like in Saeed’s case, they [the government] are not bothered,” says Kazmi. “There should be a place to address these concerns. Right now, you can’t trust anyone. If you complain, it really doesn’t result in action,” he adds.