I get it. Militaries the world over make PR films. One cannot hold this fare up to higher standards of art. It is, literally, propaganda. One cannot expect an American film, produced by, or in coordination with, the US military machine to be some sort of expose into the military-industrial complex.
It is up to private filmmakers to make movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon.
The military itself will make films like Top Gun, which is getting a sequel this year after 34 years. So effective was the movie in what marketing types call brand activation that the US Navy placed recruitment booths right in the theatres. Young men walked out, high on the movie they had just seen, saw the booths and the smiling recruitment officers, and signed right up.
In Pakistan, where recruitment figures, at either the officer level or the soldier level, are in no danger by a stretch, the military’s audio-visual fare is left to projecting the institution’s image.
One cannot – and perhaps should not – expect critical commentary on the nature of the military in our praetorian state. Were the traffic police to make a docudrama, one can’t well expect it to weigh in on challan-corruption (though a slick, well-executed one would.)
But it is not unreasonable, by any means, to ask for the military to limit its scope to, well, the military.
That is not what happens, in the ISPR’s latest television series, Ehd-e-Wafa. Whereas the protagonists of the earlier serials Sunehrey Din and its sequel Alpha Bravo Charlie were army officers (cadets in the former, young officers in the latter), only one of the four main characters of Ehd-e-Wafa goes to the military academy. The rest of his Lawrence College friends go on to become a politician, a journalist and, by the time the next episode comes out, the fourth would have cleared his CSS exam.
As expected, the military academy is shown to be an egalitarian gentlemen’s club. They follow the rules to a fault. (Has a fellow cadet has been caught cheating in an exam, a group of cadets ask each other over a game of pool in the luxurious recreation room; he deserves to be thrown out, they concur with cold-blooded conviction. The chap is booted out in front of the academy the next day under the approving eyes of the commandant, corporals, staff and cadets. If only military men were as scrupulous about the rules years later when coups are staged and none of the corps commanders and the flurry of two and three-star officers over in ‘Pindi put up even the pretense of an objection.)
The other boys: the pièce de résistance is one Shahzain Malik, a kid from a landed family, who goes on to become a politician. After the usual routine about how no one in the constituency can become the MNA without his grandfather’s support, Malik is elected to the assembly. Let us not ask in which part of central, northern – and, increasingly, southern – Punjab is it possible for an election to be a cakewalk even for an ‘electable.’
Instead, let us focus on a conversation that he has with an Islamabad-based wheeler-and-dealer who is to groom him in the vagaries of politics. It is such a caricature of how politics is seen that one half-expects the mentor to sprout out a tail, a pair of wings and grow horns.
The journalist seems to be a principled young man, in line with the drama producer’s larger attempts to reach out to the press. He makes content for social media and is eventually recruited by the mainstream media. After an acerbic interview of the newly elected politician Shahzain Malik (small world), he is thrown out of the channel at Malik’s behest (don’t let him know it was me, he tells the slimy news director) and is then reinducted at his behest (this time, tell him it was me.)
The fourth friend, the online teaser ad suggests, is going to clear his CSS, but is informed by the politician that the panellists were ‘his people,’ who got him in. He might be lying, just to curry favour, the evil Machiavellian that he has now become.
There is no merit anywhere in this narrative universe. Media? You might be able to get in, if you’re lucky, but you can be thrown out upon the insistence of politicians. Civil Service? The FPSC is compromised by the pesky politicians. Politics itself? As mentioned earlier – despite what years-upon-years of election data reveal – it is just the matter of getting ‘feudal’ backing.
There is merit only in one institution. And that is the military.
Our stellar record in matters military, especially in the current, ongoing one against terror, are fruits of that merit.
We’re 19 episodes in the series. If this is going to be a 24-episode affair, the politician isn’t going to get what screenwriters call a ‘redemptive arc.’ This is it.
The ISPR is paid for by the taxpayer money, though one half-expects some spindoctor somewhere to say it isn’t. It is in incredibly bad taste for it to produce such anti-politician fare, especially given the history of military interventions into politics.