Waar is a thrilling cinematic experience. There is no use in arguing against that. Still, the film has come under much criticism as questions have risen about ISPR support for the film and whether the movie promotes anti-India sentiments at a time when tensions are high between the two countries. Hyper-nationalists dismiss these concerns as the needless worrying of urban liberals who can’t stand to see a Pakistan portrayed on the screen. Films like Waar do, however, pose a real risk to a strong nation because, like a glass of Scotch, they can make the individual feel good for a short time, but with long term effects that produce weakness and disease.
The argument that Waar should be judged on its cinematic merits alone without regard to the narrative it projects is convenient, especially for those of us who enjoy the escapism a good film provides. Unfortunately, it can’t be accepted in our present case due to three short words: ‘Ek Tha Tiger‘.
Ek Tha Tiger, Yash Raj’s blockbuster movie starring Salman Khan, received a ‘roaring response’ from moviegoers when the teaser was released last May, only to be shut down due to what was considered a negative portrayal of ISI in the film. If cinematic quality was truly the deciding factor, why were we denied Salman Khan’s blockbuster during last year’s Eid holiday? The answer is that media plays second fiddle to the message.
Soviet leaders understood the power of film as a propaganda medium. Soviet leaders financed films that were created to both entertain and to shape the world view of their audience, cultivating a strong identification with communist ideology while denigrating the West as corrupt and failing. Thus, when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, it caught many Russians by surprise as they had always been told that they were winning the cold war. A similar situation can be seen in North Korea today, where the state’s tight control of media has created a delusion among the starving masses that if they went to war with America, they would win.
Some in Pakistan have argued that whether or not Waar is military propaganda is unimportant compared to the benefit of cultivating patriotism and a strong nationalist narrative. Others, such as novelist Ali Sethi, warn against exactly that.
“This is really pernicious and insidious propaganda which is confirming the worst and potentially poisonous stereotypes, about what is wrong with the country, who is responsible for it,” said Ali Sethi, a Pakistani novelist.
Sethi’s concerns are backed by the fact that Waar claims to be “inspired by actual events” – a claim that could further reinforce the myth that religious extremism is not the problem, that ‘terrorists can’t be Muslims’. The sad irony is that if the military did back Waar, they gave cover to the militants who are killing their own soldiers.
There is a reason that troubled men often turn to alcohol to soothe their worried minds. A small glass of the warm liquid gives a boost of confidence and makes one’s problems seem far away. The pleasant feeling of euphoria is a mere illusion, though. Whiskey doesn’t remove one’s problems, it multiplies them – even if they are temporarily forgotten. And when the effect of the alcohol wears off, the drinker is still left to face his problems, only now from a weaker position than he did before.