I probably brought this on myself, watching a film on the Indo-Pak border issue releasing on the Independence Day weekend. But, considering that GNR Kumaravelan’s previous outing was “Haridas”, which garnered itself a lot of respect for the empathetic way it dealt with disability, I looked forward to the director doing something interesting with the border issue.
“Wagah” could not have disappointed me more. It turns out to be the perfect example of what happens when you make a film on a subject of which you have little knowledge, aside from the most general slogans, platitudes and stereotypes.
Vikram Prabhu is Vasu, a boy with little interest in ideas like the nation, who somehow ends up in Kashmir as a jawan in the BSF. And true to his contrary nature, he falls in love with Khanum (Ranya Rao), a Pakistani girl visiting her grandfather across the border. Through a series of ridiculous plot choices, Vasu has to smuggle Khanum back to her hometown into Pakistan. Inevitably he gets captured, and has to find a way back to India.
The film wants to be forward-looking and above the muck of jingoism. Thus, at one point, one of Vasu’s fellow BSF jawans tells him that he is in trouble for falling in love with a Pakistani woman. And he responds that he has fallen in love with a woman, who happens to be Pakistani. Throughout the film, lines like these are spouted to show that Vasu, and the film which tells itself from his perspective, does not see Indian and Pakistani, but only human beings.
This claim finds its hyperbolic high point in the climax, when Vasu delivers a speech to the defeated Pakistani villain about how India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine or South and North Korea, all have lost out on development because they can’t stop fighting petty nationalistic battles.
But by then the film has done just about everything possible to establish that the Pakistani military are the villains behind it all. Early in the film Indian jawans are being tortured in a hidden Pakistani camp, while the men in charge watch on and laugh cruelly at every blow.
A little later in the film, a lamb is shot dead by a Pakistani soldier for wandering across the Line of Control, and one officer tells Vasu that the soldiers on the other side do not have the compassion of Indians. And while Indian officers express emotions such as concern for innocents, the Pakistani villains are willing to mindlessly kill anyone who gets in the way of their plans.
It’s also telling that an Indian soldier falls in love with and gives succour to a Pakistani woman. In a country where the rules of who gives and who receives women in marriage are tightly regulated, it is inconceivable that the opposite could occur even in the fictional world of film.
But let’s leave jingoistic prejudice aside. The least that such a film should offer is a good thrill ride that one can suspend one’s brain and participate in. But Kumaravelan has all of one action trick in his book: having his hero repeatedly fly through the air in slow motion. And thus you have the moronic final sequence where Vasu, chased by a battalion of soldiers, insists on killing them one by one with his bare hands. The Pakistani soldiers, meanwhile, can’t seem to shoot straight at distances over three feet.
With such shoddy material to work with, it comes as no surprise that most of the actors show about as much depth or emotion as cardboard cutouts of themselves.
Take my advice. Watch AIADMK MP Navaneethakrishnan sing songs about Kashmir and declaim the virtues of saffron. That video is a lot more entertaining than this film at least.