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Freedom to commodify Kashmir

It’s been over a month since Eid-ul-Fitr, but the four films that jointly hit – in the most literal of senses – cinemas across the country still have quite a few ripples left, and, again, for all the wrong reasons.

Having already reviewed the other three films, before we look at the fourth one in this space, it is important to revisit what happened before this convergence – if nothing else, this would underscore why exactly was the foursome especially underwhelming for the local film industry.

Cake and Motorcycle Girl were the immediately preceding films before the Eid releases. And they, especially Cake, looked like having increased the bar high enough for us to finally expect – and not merely hope for – decent quality films in the weeks and months to follow.

If the Eid releases collectively brought us back to square one, Azaadi is one film that had the wherewithal to singlehandedly take the industry back to the 90s. In fact, it had the one ingredient what was (mis)used wholeheartedly at the time: commodification of the Kashmir cause.

But then again the 90s was almost a different universe, and jingoism was sold in the garb of patriotism just about everywhere. What is a shame here is that the same narrative is being peddled in the same package two decades later.

It is owing to this commodification, and to a minor extent the star power of Moammar Rana, that Azaadi comfortably outdid Wajood and Na Band Na Baraati in the Box Office numbers – other reasons, of course, included the abysmal quality of the two films in question.

But while all businesses – filmmaking being one as well – commercialise one thing or the other, when such a treatment is meted out to a universal human rights cause, for visible self-interests, that barefaced cashing in needs to be underscored.

As the name of the film indicates, it depicts the freedom fight – which in itself has developed pluralism as an idea over the years – for people of Kashmir, who are being targeted by multi-pronged atrocities by multiple actors.

Considering how the issue echoes with the larger Pakistani populace, who are only exposed to a monolithic – and indeed the narrowest – version of the dispute, Azaadi smacks the war drums and reeks in populism.

Even so, a complete war-mongering film would have been digestible in some form, it is the fact that the filmmakers go completely gung-ho in their commercialisation that makes the mockery of the cause that they shamelessly sell.

Romantic songs set in the war zone, for instance, would be a cringe-fest no matter how far one stands on the hyper-nationalist spectrum.

The film has been directed, co-produced and written by Imran Malik along with his brother Irfan Malik. It was released under the banner of his father’s Pervez Malik Films. The cast of this film

features the likes of Moamer Rana, Nadeem Baig and Sonya Hussain. Mariyam Khalif is the child artist in this cast. Javed Sheikh and Ali Bilal have also made guest appearances.

The backdrop of the film is founded upon the vision of Azaad’s father (Nadeem Baig) who is trying to pass on his nationalism to the youth. He has spent the entirety of his life fighting for the freedom of Kashmir. Now, he wants the younger generation to step up and continue the struggle.

Azaad (Moammar Rana), who is comfortably spending his time with girlfriend Zara (Sonya Hussain), is woken up by the cause out of the blue, wherein he decides upon fulfilling his father’s dream. Azaad then realises that he has to sacrifice his life for the struggle. He leaves everything behind, including his love.

Yes, the storyline is as atrocious as it reads here.

Azad is hyped up as the personification of bravado and ‘patriotism’ who can just about do anything for his homeland – and that’s when he decides to become a ‘mujahid’.

Zara, meanwhile, is a Pakistani-British journalist who covers Kashmir. Of course there is a love story to be had between a journalist and what in all effect was her story – a Pulitzer winning at that. But the couple choose to go for the Pulitzer Prize in misplaced romance.

What the film needed was more on ground struggle of the ordinary Kashmiri, but that would’ve required more political nous. Hence what the film chose to offer was superimposed action sequences, and lots of ammunition, the origin of which no one ever explains.

Of course, what really makes it impossible to give all the weaknesses a pass is the film’s insistence on making it a one-man show where the heroism of Azaad was given more attention that the azaadi of the people, who actually remain very much in the background.

Cinematography is crucial in war movies. The editing of the long shots was all over the place. The action sequences seemed artificially choreographed – which of course they were, but shouldn’t blatantly give them away as such. This is where Ben Jasper – of Bang Bang fame – couldn’t do much to salvage anything for the movie.

Despite the monstrosity that stuffing romance in this film was, one possible explanation might be that they actually managed to land a soundtrack that had to be utilised somewhere. And of course, the mountainous north is the ideal setting to shoot such tracks as well.

Sahir Ali Bagga doesn’t disappoint with his vocals. And you can’t ask for more than Rahat Ali Khan, Shafqat Amanat Ali and Qurat-ul-Ain Baloch as company. But a film on Kashmir should not have a romantic soundtrack at all – let alone as its only real selling point.

Azaadi insults the Kashmir dispute and only fuels the reality that the Pakistani version of the conflict is splashed with jingoism and eons away from reality. But, of course, you can’t really expect to release a more nuanced film on the subject and expect it to pass the heavily militarized zone that our censor boards are.

The best way to go about it, hence, is to let a war film remain as such, and not stuff it with more baits for the viewers. But you don’t want to support a cause and make a mockery of it in the same breath. That’s precisely what Azaadi manages to achieve.

K K Shahid

The writer is a member of staff

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