New Pakistani blockbuster aims to put country on filmmaking global map…and read review below…
WIDELY acknowledged to be Pakistan’s biggest and most lavish film production, the core team behind ‘Yalghaar’ were in London for its premiere and spoke to www.asianculuturevulture.com about their film and the future of Pakistani cinema.
It is writer-director Hassan Rana’s second film, after the hugely successful ‘Waar’, released in 2013. At that time, it went onto become the country’s most successful film and garnered international attention too.
Rana has returned to the subject of the Pakistani Army and the plot is loosely centred around the military’s actual operations against militants in the Swat Valley – he told www.asianculturevulture.com he strived hard to make it as authentic as possible and with extensive army cooperation, the actors even used live rounds in filming.
Packed with star names from the Pakistani film world – including Shaan, Bilal Ashraf and Armeena Rana Khan, among others – it’s really Rana giving it both barrels in terms of trying to scoop large audiences, both at home and abroad.
He told us that he had ploughed his own funds into the film to the tune of $2.3m (about £1.8m) – while some media have estimated the film’s total cost was more than £5m.
Journalist Sana Bucha makes her film debut and plays a TV news reporter who scrutinises the Army’s offensive in Swat and told us how she came to be in the film – joking that Rana had put her in, as ‘punishment’ – after telling him what could have been better in ‘Waar’. She is also one of the producers of ‘Yalghaar’ (meaning assault).
But Rana first on why he felt compelled to make ‘Yalghaar’ from the outset.
A tall man, impeccably attired, he has the air of a friendly, gracious Army/diplomat type (and has a part in the film as a general) and described himself as an ‘expat’, having lived in Britain for 10 years.
“This is about introducing our soldiers to our people and to the rest of the world,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com on Friday (June 30) in London. “You just read about it (operations) in the newspapers and it says so many soldiers have died and it has come to a point in Pakistan where we are so used to it, you just move on.
“I really wanted to stop for a second and take stock and see these people are not only fighting for Pakistan but for the world.”
In the film, the baddies and the goodies are clearly defined and while Rana is careful not to call the enemy, Taliban, it is obvious the operation is aimed at terrorists of a similar hue.
“As a nation, we have stopped mourning – we have lost so many people – over 80,000 have died.
“After the Army Public School (attack in Peshawar in 2014) and the deaths of 146 kids (and staff) we were numbed as a nation.”
It’s a patriotic movie for sure, lauding the men in uniform for their service to the nation.
“We could not have filmed in the areas we shot in without the Army and none of this would have been possible without them – the equipment, the training for the actors. We had actual officers appear in the film at our request.”
He confirmed the actors had used live rounds – he had first spoken in the UK about that at the London premiere the night before.
“I wanted it to be as raw and realistic as possible – when an actor knows that he has a live weapon in his hands and on the big screen you cannot lie,” he smiled.
He insisted that it was not a propaganda film or simply an exercise in Pakistani Army PR.
“No, the hardest questions were asked in the film, there is a complete counter-narrative and Sana Bucha’s character was based on that,” he affirmed.
Bucha laughed when she explained how she came to be approached.
A well-known TV talk show host in Pakistan and one of the first women to appear in such a role, she was chatty, friendly and frank.
She told acv : “It was at the intermission (of ‘Waar’), I was standing outside and I got talking to this tall man.
“Finally a tall man, I am tall,” said the King’s College London graduate in political science and creative writing. “I pulled the film apart and then he said: ‘I am Hassan Waqas Rana, the director of the film’. Oh.
“He said: ‘I am making another film would you be interested in a role?’ I thought is that punishment for criticising it? That’s how we met.”
There was some talk initially of her playing herself but in the end, she became another character because of the romantic angle.
“If there wasn’t a romantic sequence with Shaan maybe it would be different, it was very daunting.”
She said she is open to more acting offers but has to believe in the story to commit.
“I have a certain brand, and brands are bigger than people. I can’t play a damsel in distress, I wouldn’t be a) able to play it, b) it wouldn’t be believable.”
She also explained she has some experience of ‘acting’ but in quite a different context – when she was hosting her talk show.
“When you actually want to break someone’s face and you’re trying to pretend you don’t want to and when you want to really say, ‘can I slap your face?’ as you are patiently listening to their BS.”
She is adamant that the film industry in Pakistan needs to get bigger and that can only happen if there are more entrants into it.
“The industry can’t survive on a few people and we need a new of pool of actors and directors – that’s why I really wanted people to know that if someone like me can play a role, we are breaking a taboo.
“I was the only woman on prime-time TV, and I was very fortunate – and when I broke through I had a lot of young girls coming to me and saying ‘we saw you and then got into TV’. “If I can get people to go there, I can get them here (into the film industry) and be that driving force.”
Rana believes the Pakistani film industry has come a long way since he made ‘Waar’ but there is yet more travel ahead.
He stated: “When I made ‘Waar’ the market was just $600,000 (£480K).
“There’s been exponential growth and there are some 33/34 productions currently and they will decide the fate of the Pakistani film industry.
“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, most Pakistani films are not making money, but someone has to jump in front of the gun and take the bullet and let others follow. You have to be a creative fool – and I am eternal optimist.”
Rana is working on three projects mainly once promoting the film comes to an end – an international period piece, a script for an international film and a sequel to ‘Waar’, he told us.
Bucha, for her part, will be setting up an orphanage in her home city of Karachi and launching a new TV talk show herself this autumn it aims to be hard-hitting and tackling social issues.
*’Yalghaar’ on release in UK cinemas from June 30
Sailesh Ram (additional research: Shazia Ashraf)
THE STORY follows a military operation over several days to locate a militant ‘Torjan’, played by the brilliant Humayun Saeed.
‘Yalghaar‘ often cuts into back stories to establish relationships of some of the pivotal characters.
There were small snippets of several themes and stories throughout the film – but sadly they didn’t explore them much, having set them up nicely.
Annoyingly, the women had superficial roles, really. Actual presenter and journalist Sana Bucha made her film debut and the first time we see her on screen, the concentration goes on capturing her looks, and the scene itself ends quickly.
Ayesha Omer was a wasted talent in the role of kidnapped Zarmina, her lines often read as a bad first draft. There was so much her character could be thinking, feeling and saying, but throughout she repeats the same tedious clichéd lines.
There were some things that didn’t look authentic – in one scene there was no blood on a knife or on the hand of the man wielding it. Why were some basic things like that missed?
What was great about ‘Yalghaar’ was that it didn’t lie about what it set out to do.
It was a patriotic honest thank you, a reminder about the lives of Pakistani men and women who live and die for the country.
Watch ‘Yalghaar’ to support Pakistani films, watch it for Saeed who was beyond phenomenal in his role, and watch it for some brilliant cinematography. It is the kind of film I’d watch again. (Shazia Ashraf)
ACV rating: *** (out of five)