It’s customary to provide a synopsis of a film one intends to dissect. I am saddened to report that there is no semblance of a story here, which puts me in a conundrum of deciding whether a spoiler alert even needs to be issued.
But here goes: inspired by the successful military operation in Swat valley, Yalghaar follows the endeavors of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the armed forces - Col Asad (Shaan), Col Imran (Adnan Siddiqui), Capt Bilal (Bilal Ashraf), Capt Umair (Umair Jaswal) and Col Jogezai (Ayub Khoso) who is in terrorist captivity - fighting a terrorist organisation led by the malevolent ‘Tor Khan’ (Humayun Saeed) in Pakistan’s northern reaches.
The film suffers tremendously from the lack of a coherent storyline. Writer and producer Hassan Waqas Rana’s razor-sharp focus on the underlying theme and message of the film means that there is no concern on constructing a comprehensible plot for his movie. A film that is clear in its objective to pay homage to the valour and sacrifice of a Pakistani soldier, pays no regard to matters like sensible camera angles, coherent audio, action choreograph, semi-decent character arcs, or even a basic plot.
This ‘objective’ is not an assumption on my part. Yalghaar opens with a verbal salute to the bravery of our ever-watchful guardians. The film does not even wait for its first scene; it jumps to inform you in bold text at the very beginning that it is the vigilance of the dauntless Pakistani army that affords you the privilege to watch this film in peace. If you’re patriotic, you better applaud.
In fact, this objective is no more of an assumption on a moviegoer’s part, than a hunch that this film has been sponsored by Bank Al-Falah. Such a thing wouldn’t normally merit a mention in a film review, but this gaudy and awkwardly extensive product placement is so distracting, it is guaranteed to impact your movie experience. The Al-Falah credit card - flashed multiple times in scenes written exclusively to justify its presence - has more personality than most characters in the movie. It’s jarring how the ever-dependable credit card has not been allowed to give TV interviews next to Ayesha Omar.
The cast’s performance is generally poor. What little skill comes on display is obliterated by kitschy dialogue and sloppy voice-overs.
It’s not a joke when I assert that most characters have been written thinner than a plastic card. Baran, Gohar Rasheed’s character, is the only one who has been bestowed any complexity among the antagonists. The villain camp has no discernible aim and, or purpose - except that shooting them is essential to moving the story forward.
Humayun Saeed’s character, Tor Jan, isn’t just mysterious, it’s baffling. Saeed’s entire role in this production is to smile sardonically and slowly utter bad proverbs. What does Tor Jan even want? Who does he work for? Nobody knows. The closest he ever gets to explaining his aspiration is when he tells a short childhood story about sharpening a stick into a spear and using it to rob all other kids of their sticks. What did he do with all those sticks? Nobody knows, but one assumes he carved out more spears for the heck of it.
Tor Jan is quite simply the designated bad guy; the sooner he dies, the sooner you get to leave the movie theater.
Even more elusive is Ayesha Omar’s purpose on the set. She plays a bride who is kidnapped from her wedding ceremony by Tor Jan and his terrorists. Her role, if any, is to grieve constantly and have Tor Jan whisper philosophical sayings into her ear. Yalghaar is among the most expensive Pakistani films ever made and the cost of waterproof makeup on Ayesha Omar’s ashen face coupled with an endless cascade of fake tears, have surely contributed their share.
Adnan Siddiqui’s performance is worth more than an honorable mention and Sana Bucha absolutely steals every scene that she appears in.
The film’s attempt at humanising its military characters, is by introducing romantic subplots – each more clichéd than the other. Two of the four female love interests in the movie are cartoonishly simple characters. Uzma Khan’s solid straight-faced acting delivers the only joke that genuinely made me chuckle before the writer decided to have her dignity murdered in a bewildering harassment/proposal scene.
The only thing admirable about the script is that the writer clearly did his research on military operations and professional jargon; rendering a more natural feel to its otherwise unexciting combat sequences.The absence of a real plot and the generic nature of the designated bad guys means that there aren’t enough political or historical claims being made that may be fact-checked. The overarching theme, as I perceived, is that the Pakistan army is a juggernaut - not invincible, but with ample endurance for hardship. The film makes a not-so-subtle point that the high defense expenditure is justified to help fight our internal ‘darinday’ (animals), who are being sponsored by Afghan agents.
The cast’s performance is generally poor. What little skill comes on display, is obliterated by kitschy dialogue and sloppy voice-overs in which the speech is out of sync with the actors’ lip movements.
Yalghaar is testament to the fact that our film industry needs more than just patriotism; it needs a will to explore new artistic territory.
Adnan Siddiqui’s performance, however, is worth more than an honorable mention, and Sana Bucha absolutely steals every scene that she appears in. Ayub Khoso succeeds primarily because he’s blessed with a fascinating character role, but it would be unfair to dismiss the skill he brings to the production. Shaan’s acting is mediocre and nearly indiscernible from his role in Waar. Aleeze Nasir’s delicate performance suffers from the lack of depth of her one-dimensional character as Col Imran’s pregnant wife. Bilal Ashraf has large biceps.
The film is shoddily edited and replete with annoying jump cuts. Every time a battle scene comes dangerously close to keeping you engaged, you’ll find yourself jolted into a deluge of an emotional dream sequence in an operating theater. You’ll find yourself yanked out of an interesting conversation among commanding officers of the armed forces because that Al-Falah credit card hasn’t made an appearance in almost 13 minutes.
Whoever was responsible for lighting in this film ought to pay the highest penance. The movie has three major conflict scenes, all of which take place at night-time. It is tremendously difficult to immerse oneself in the situation and appreciate the tension when the entire scene feels like it’s being shot by the irritating camera-man from your cousin’s valima. The location is flooded with intense artificial light creating long shadows that even the brightest moonlight wouldn’t manage. The whole film builds up to an emotional scene at the battlefield with a close-up of Bilal Ashraf’s face looking horrifyingly over-lit.
Ultimately, my fear is that none of these offences even matter to the makers of this film.
Had someone led the filmmakers to believe that if they could simply hitch their cinematic work to a cobra helicopter their honourable subject alone would ensure a box-office hit? Had they been so eager to force the political message of the army’s unquestionable greatness onto the audience that they felt encumbered by art and craft? If so, why not just make a documentary about the sacrifices of our brave jawaans?
Yalghaar is as disappointing as it is expensive. One may argue that we should learn to savour any Pakistani film with production value as impressive as this, Yalghaar is testament to the fact that our film industry needs more than just patriotism; it needs a will to explore new artistic territory.