For long cinema has taken inspiration from the fears and aspirations of our culture, its pacifism with some and growing conflict with others. Pakistan’s new-age cinema, still in its nascent stages, too walks a similar pathway with Dr Hasan Waqas Rana’s directorial debut Yalghaar.
Based on a true story over 76 hours of a successful military operation conducted in the Parichar region of Swat district, Yalghaar – at face value – appears to be yet another movie that relies on extremism to establish its central plot. However, Bilal Ashraf – who is not only performing in the film but also multi-tasks as Visual Effects Director and COO of Mindworks Media (Mindworks also produced the record breaking Waar) – asserts that Yalghaar isn’t your ‘done and dusted’ action film bit by the militancy bug but rather a riveting yet emotional war epic.
“Amidst the action, Yalghaar goes up close to follow the lives of the young, passionate officers and soldiers whose patriotism is throbbing with every heartbeat for their country,” Bilal spoke to Instep about the upcoming film that is already exciting cinema-goers. “It is not just another war film, it explores what happens in the lives of those involved, including the militants and how all of them are affected at a personal level because of the ongoing operation. The film is very comprehensive in the sense that it touches upon the human element apart from bringing the whole war-based action to life on screen. Living in the cities we are exposed to the side effects that ripple all the way here and we may openly discuss it but we really don’t know what war is and what it does to people,” he added.
Like most other films that promise to be the vehicles of cinematic prosperity, Yalghaar too attracted the initial limelight for its exuberant expenses and mega budget, which is rumoured to have crossed 50 crores.
“There are not only vast numbers of choppers and guns and ammunition being used but a huge man-made cave system was also built in Karachi, replicating that of North Waziristan. It looked so real that it managed to fool nature – bats started living in it out of nowhere,” shared Bilal. “Apart from logistics, there are over 150 written characters in the film, played by an extensive cast. Hence, one can only imagine the magnitude of costs involved.”
With a plot so sensitive and the shooting location so unstable, a host of challenges awaited the crew. However, luckily for them the Pakistani army has been immensely supportive. The ISPR may not be funding the project but its role in granting all the necessary access points is what has made this film finally go onto the floors after nearly three years of expansive research.
“It’s been extremely challenging for us, going in the Swat region as civilians and shooting with security on high alert, but we are fortunate that the army was very helpful to us and allowed us to visit the affected areas,” added Bilal.
The ‘us’ in Yalghaar is a sizeable mix of established and seasoned actors, newcomers and above all, Shaan. With over 500 films to his credit, Shaan has quickly transitioned from being Lollywood’s robust gujjar to savvy warrior. The man is, of course, talented but the one question that looms on everyone’s mind is this: is he the only star with the capability of playing a lead role?
“There isn’t only one particular lead in this film, there are many,” Bilal clarifies. “Yes, Shaan is automatically quoted as the main lead because he is Shaan; he has been doing some great work in the industry. However, Shaan wasn’t roped in because of his popularity but because he fits the character like a glove – be it in terms of the age portrayed or the persona defined. We do have young and brilliant actors coming up however, being young and current doesn’t mean that they can fit a particular role better. In fact our debutantes are learning a lot from him just by being around him and that will eventually help them.”
Does Shaan sense a kind of monotony setting in? We have seen him play a Major General in Waar, soon the audiences will watch him play a spy in Operation 021 and as for Yalghaar, the 43-year-old will be donning the role of a Colonel. How is his role different this time around?
“Yalghaar was a complicated decision as an actor because the writer Dr Hassan wrote it with a different feel,” Shaan responded. “I am really looking forward to going on shoot and digging into a different character, a different challenge as a challenge fuels and intensifies the focus and delivery. Yalghaar is a true story and the events are written in history by the blood of the martyrs. We want the world to know what our brave men did and are doing to not only bring peace in this region but throughout the world. As for Dr Hassan, he always comes up with his own signature feel in every movie and it is high time that people get to know the real talent he has as a filmmaker.”
“This time around I wanted the character to look much sharper, as he is currently serving, so that adds a whole new dimension to the details,” he added. “I have always loved shopping for new characters as you get to pick the DNA, the traits and create a new being for screen that will live in it for years to come. These are characters that come from you but aren’t you.”
Interestingly enough, Yalghaar will put Shaan and Humayun Saeed in action against each other for the first time on screen. While Shaan plays the patriotic colonel, Humayun will be seen as the militant antagonist. The producer shares that Saeed was placed alongside captured/reformed militants to learn their mannerisms in order to perfect his role. Even if it was risky, it was necessary to master the act. As Bilal informs, all actors were made to interact with their real-life alter egos and train themselves accordingly. For instance, a pilot was placed alongside a pilot in an MI7 and was taught with great attention to detail.
Apart from big names like Shaan, Humayun, Ayub Khoso and Adnan Siddiqui, Yalghaar’s attraction lies – as much as in the story – in the slew of debutants being introduced. Ayesha Omar will make her big screen debut alongside restaurateur Sikander Rizvi and singer Umair Jaswal.
“My character in the film is very different from what I’ve portrayed on television,” Ayesha spoke to Instep about her role. “It is intense, scared and challenged by circumstances. As the director puts it, I am the moral centre of the film. He believes in me and I hope I am able to execute what he has envisioned.”
For those avid followers who had been missing her spark a debate on news channels, anchor Sana Bucha will also be trying her hand at acting with Yalghaar, albeit in a role very close to her real life persona. “This is my first film and the only one that I will ever do,” Bucha puts things in perspective. “I am playing a reporter which is something I have already done so it’s not really acting at my end, and that is why I chose to do the role. It is very close to who I am for real. Audiences will see Sana Bucha in it and not a different person altogether.” Bucha is also spearheading the production of the film.
“Waar was a turning point for Pakistani cinema but Yalghaar will change the face of it altogether, stamping its existence on the global map,” concludes Bilal Ashraf. “Waar, which is probably the most successful Pakistani film to date, is a very small project compared to Yalghaar. It did set a good precedence but now our aim is to take it far ahead and create new benchmarks with this film.”
With the current socio-political climate at hand, it is great to see industry professionals bring us another war movie that audiences may relate to more than most of the mindless fluff that is imported from across the border. Releasing towards the end of the year, Yalghaar promises to be an energy-fuelled take on patriotism and is sure to hit the right chord with the masses.