Patriotism seems to a workable currency in all weathers. Particularly in those days when the country is in a great depression – economically, politically and socially, its people need some desperate morale boosters to rest assured and to not lose hope in anticipation of the good days that never come.
When it comes to filmmakers and film financiers, this opportunist breed better knows how to exploit the nation’s patriotic sentiments by feeding it with public-spirited content and by chanting nationalistic mantras to raise the nation’s fading morale. In neighbouring country, for instance, its junta has had enough of listening to ‘hum hongay kamyab aik din’ (we shall overcome one day) since ages for no reason other than keeping the nation’s pride intact.
In a similar contrast, Pakistan cinema has many examples of films that provoke patriotism and reignite nationalism from time to time. Though the frequency of such films is less than those of Indian cinema, there has been a sudden rise of films based on patriotism. As the trend suggests, every second film is now supposed to be a patriotic, action thriller and is purposefully produced to cash in on one’s patriotic fervour. Striking while the iron is hot, the strategy does wonder, at least for the people behind these films, helping the ailing cinema stay afloat to avoid its total extinction.
Produced in the current decade, some leading examples of patriotic films are: Project Ghazi (2017), Parwaaz Hay Junoon (2017), Geo Sar Utha Kay (2017), Zarrar (2017), Yalghar (2017), Waar 2 (2017), Azaadi (2017), Saya e Khuda e Zuljalal
(2016), Malik (2016), Revenge of the Worthless (2016), Salute (2016), Nation Awakes (2016), Shah (2015), Operation 021 (2014), Waar (2013), Chambaili - The Fragrance of Freedom (2013), Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (2013), Josh: Independence Through Unity (2012) and Son of Pakistan (2011). Apart from such biopics as Salute, Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, and Shah, some films are inspired or based on true events such as Geo Sar Utha Kay and Yalghar.
The timing of these films matches with the turbulent era the country has been going through. Producing patriotic films is itself seen as an act of patriotism and also proves the fact that our filmmakers and artistes are part of the same society and they equally feel the pain and suffering of the nation. Produced out of adventurous, but overstated patriotism, however, such films end up being monotonous owing to a number of reasons. The objective is not to take a dim view of filmmaking efforts, but here we aim to highlight the areas the majority of producers, film directors and even the scriptwriters tend to ignore.
Making the most of one’s patriotic sentiments with the country, here filmmakers do not risk coming up with a new storyline and rely on a proven formula to avoid any financial mishap. Despite the flurry of films based on patriotism and devotion to the motherland, the storyline of these films is mostly based on a tried and tested formula one has already seen many a times before. For example, actor and producer Ashir Azeem, who is another flag-bearer of action packed patriotism, is following the same storyline featured in PTV blockbuster drama Dhuwan in 1994.
As the formula goes here, a patriotic film should revolve around a young, tall, handsome, jingoistic hero, as a man with average looks and small physique cannot conform to the version of patriotism in this part of the world. Besides a powerful, muscular hero, the film needs to portray a mother figure, which is always seen praying in every scene of the film. In addition to that, one cannot be patriotic enough if he is not accompanied by a ravishing and alluring damsel or a gorgeous life partner whose love (and marriage) is always ready to be sacrificed at the altar of war.
The chief problem lies in a seemingly patriotic film is patriotism itself, which is often exhibited in a violent form. In fact, one needs to define the true meaning of a patriotic act as the contemporary form of patriotism being propagated in Pakistani films is pretty confined to its applicability. As it is commonly shown, one needs to be in the armed forces to demonstrate one’s love for the country or one is left with no option but to take arms in one’s hands to eliminate the evil elements harming the country.
In addition to that, the enemy of the country is always shown in a nasty, physical form, while one’s fight to beat such social evils as illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, child labour, etc. never falls into the definition of patriotism. Interestingly, the more patriotic one is, the more hasty he is in wiping off the enemy, as the contemporary doctrine of patriotism is all about making things happen in a flash, instead of opting for a slow, decade-long struggle against the evil forces.
Moving from one disappointment to another, the lead actors in these films are always the same. Take, for instance, Shaan Shahid, the leading film actor in Pakistan cinema at the moment with more than 275 films to his credit. Inheriting acting in his genes and with a massive stardom he has achieved, however, he has reduced himself into the monotonous actor of rather narrow range. Considering the deplorable state of Pakistan cinema plagued by the dearth of real talent, Shaan can be referred to as a figure among ciphers, as his acting skills are below par and he has not been able to show any variety in his roles despite an over three-decade-long career in showbiz.
From dialogue delivery to body expressions, he happens to be an average performer from head to toe, giving a wooden performance all the time. His ability to use his voice and maintain an appropriate body language to serve his roles is doubted. He is always predictable in his performance and he tends to play almost the same role in different films to make things worse.
For example, he plays the role of Major Mujtaba Rizvi in Waar 1 (2013) and Waar 2 (2017). Then he becomes Colonel Asad in Yalghar (2017), a soldier in Soldier (2004), and plays the role of a commando both in Ghar Kab Aao Gay (2000) and Commando (2003). In his upcoming film ‘Zarrar,’ he will be again seen as a military commander, or better to say a one-man army that is able to annihilate the other country’s entire forces single-handedly. Even years before the film’s release, one already knows Shaan will emerge as a spy, a detective, a terrorist, a warrior or a member of the elite forces.
No doubt he holds a certain amount of charisma and is quite popular in advertising circles, but his poor track record as a film actor suggests a different story. If judged on merit, he can be a good stuntman for action thrillers, but in terms of acting, he does not deserve to be hired in films even as an extra, let alone play a lead role.
Other than Shaan, Humayun Saeed is another most predictable actor who is unwilling to perform beyond the persona he has made for himself in television. The performance of Hamza Ali Abbasi, a new entry into the patriotic club, is as predictable as Shafqat Cheema’s sky-splitting cry and is as average as Sultan Rahi’s gandasa-bound heroics. The same goes for the rest of the leading cast of patriotic films produced at a higher frequency with much fanfare, but with little substance.
Suffice it to say, a mediocre performance can only thrive in mediocre cinema and it is proven by the repeated arrival of high-budget, formulaic films these days.