‘Jingoism has become Waar’s strength’

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SummaryPakistani director Bilal Lashari on the unexpected success of his debut film Waar and why he’d like to leave the song-and-dance routine to Bollywood

Till about a fortnight ago, Shah Rukh Khan’s Don 2 held the record for having the biggest opening in cinemas across Pakistan. Now, that honour goes to Waar, a home-grown indie production by first-time filmmaker Bilal Lashari. Less than a week after its release, Waar has already made more money than Don 2 — at PKR 71 million. Since its budget of PKR 220 million is very high for a Pakistani movie, Waar will have to keep the cash registers ringing for another week or so before it can be declared a hit. For now, the film is having a dream run at the box office.

An unlikely success, the film, with a star cast of Shaan Shahid, Shamoon Abbasi, Ali Azmat, Meesha Shafi and Aisha Khan, has none of the staples of a masala movie — no song and dance, no light moments and its dialogues are mostly in English and subtitled in Urdu. Set in the backdrop of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, it shows India’s RAW backing the violence. While the film has been criticised as “propaganda”, its director, Bilal Lashari, 31, a film graduate from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, who has earlier directed music videos for pop stars like Atif Aslam and the Mekaal Hassan Band and briefly assisted director Shoaib Mansoor during the making of his acclaimed film Khuda Kay Liye (2007), says the element of “spectacle” accounts for the film’s success. Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you choose to make a film on terrorism? Critics say you chose the subject because you were allegedly financed by the ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations, the communication arm of Pakistan’s Armed Forces)...

Waar happened because of its producer Dr Hassan Waqas Rana’s interest in the subject. I was interested in making an action film and terrorism is a very relevant topic in Pakistan. It’s also a very international topic. We wanted to create a foreign market for the film.

The film has generated two kinds of parallel discussions — on the one hand, there are the masses who are raving about the quality of action sequences, Amir Munawwar’s background score and Qayaas’s soundtrack, and, on the other, there are people who are discussing and debating its subject.

Do you think your music videos Hungami halaat for Atif Aslam and Islamabad for Abrarul Haq were precursors to Waar in terms of their political content?

Well, the videos are

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