By Ayesha Babar
As a quintessential 90’s kid in Pakistan, I grew up on a healthy dose of patriotic television content. Much of this programming centered on the armed forces and their single-tracked focus to protect the country against all odds. Most Pakistani millennials will confess to watching these shows over and over again – from ‘Dhuan’ based on the police services, to ‘Ghazi Shaheed’ centred around a Navy mission and the legendary ’Alpha Bravo Charlie’. All these had one thread in common – they showed the work of these forces against the backdrop of some very real, human relationships; friendships, love and family.
In recent times, as Pakistani cinema’s revival has gained momentum, we have seen a return to these patriotic themes. Waar, arguably one of Pakistan’s most successful films in recent times, has been a flag bearer for this genre. So understandably when I heard that the team that made Waar (sans the Waar director, Bilal Lashari, though) was working on another Army-based film called ‘Yalghaar’, I was excited to see the film. Hassan Waqas Rana, who was the producer and writer of Waar, took the director’s seat this time as well as being the writer and playing one of the main parts (maybe too much on his plate, but more on that later). With three long years in the making, the film has been touted as the biggest Pakistani film yet. With a star cast that boasts of leading names like Shaan Shahid, Humayun Saeed, Adnan Siddiqui and Bilal Ashraf, it certainly did seem that the makers had managed a bit of a casting coup.
The film was finally released this Eid and opened to sold out shows over the festive period. Did it deliver what it promised? To a certain extent yes but that is not say it does not have its flaws.
Yalghaar, meaning an attack or assault, is based on the true story of a 76 hour military operation conducted by the Pakistan Army in Swat against the Pakistani Taliban and a war on terrorism that has cost the country dearly. Yalghaar starts off with an incredibly slick military action sequence and we are given a brief intro to some of the main characters. It then shifts between military command rooms, the Army mess and the personal lives of the officers and soldiers involved in the action. Through the interactions of the characters we are given a peak into the camaraderie that these soldiers share and that is one of the highlights of the films. The film’s meticulously planned war sequences are the other and audiences can see that no expense has been spared in the making.
Where Yalghaar falls short is a) some of the casting and b) editing. Let me explain. Humayun Saeed, tried hard to break away from his romantic hero image as he plays the antagonist, Torjan, and probably has the most scenes in the films. He is shown to be an all-powerful, local leader of the terrorists based in the Northern, largely Pashtoun areas of Pakistan. However, Humayun with his flawless Urdu does not look the Pashtoun part (also, what’s with those terrible extensions?). Humayun is usually a powerhouse performer, glimpses of which you can see in the climax scene, so it was disappointing to see him suffer due to the miscasting and his poorly written character. The writer should have given audiences a credible back story for Humayun to play it to make Torjan more believable. Even Humayun’s sidekick, Jalal (played by Neem ul Haq) evoked more fear and hate in the audiences than Torjan! Other example of miscasting are Ali Rehman Khan, a very talented actor, who is completely wasted in a rather small role and Ayesha Omar, who again does not have much to work with.
With ten plus main parts in the film, the film also suffers from having too many characters – and without much screen time or backstory, it is sometimes confusing for the audience to follow the storylines of each. Yalghaar would have benefitted from having half the main characters but with some kind of character development for each. Which brings me to possibly the biggest problem I had with the film – the editing! Watching the film, it seems pretty obvious that 30-40 minutes of it were edited out in a hurry. Some of the scenes seem unrelated to each other and thus appear rather forced. I, for one, would have loved to watch the longer version of the film!
This is not to say that Yalghaar is not a good watch. There are some shining moments in the film that have stayed with me. The raw emotions on the battleground were very aptly portrayed by Shaan and my personal favourite characters from the film – Captain Bilal, played by Bilal Ashraf and Captain Asif, played by debutant Ahmad Taha Ghani. I particularly liked the romantic track with Bilal and the lovely Armeena Rana Khan. After last year’s hit, Janaan, the expectations were high from the couple’s chemistry and they did not let audiences down. Another highlight was the relationship between Adnan Siddiqui and his European wife although I wish they had more scenes.
All in all, Hassan manages to put across the human cost of terrorism – something that most often gets ignored behind the numbers and the headlines we see every day. And that I believe is the biggest triumph of Yalghaar. As the movie ended and the lights came on, most of the audience was visibly moved and emotional.
Yalghaar is not just a film about Pakistan or the Pakistan Army though. At its heart, it is a human war drama that will appeal to a range of audiences.
We give it 3.5 stars out of 5.