That famous uncle from 3 idiots was in my mind, once I walked out of the cinema after watching Pakistani film maker’s latest tribute to the military. The scene could not have been set better. It is perhaps insensitive to say this but the whole aftermath Pulwama attack, gave the Sherdil team new impetus and marketing material. It is the best perfect time to launch a film on the Pakistan Air Force, yet the actual film says very little in about 2.5 hours.
Story written by Noman Khan diverges into multiple paths, but never engages you. There is no investment in building the myth around Haris Mustafa (Mikaal Zulfiqar). Motivated by his martyr grandfather, he wants to join the PAF. His father loudly and mother silently are opposed to the idea. We are told multiple times that laad se pala larka, won’t be able to take hardships of the academy but no actual hardships are shown later. How did the parents not know that their son wants to go that way? Or was it just a sudden wish? Anyhow, we hear speeches about honour, family, tradition and love of the country and Haris’s dadi (a stereotypical role for Samina Ahmed) makes sure he gets his wish.
For the best part of an hour, we see the typical bullying of cadets (many look considerably younger than Haris), by their seniors and management. There is an officer with poor English, a goofy dehati and a Singh cadet. We only get fleeting references to flying or Haris’ desire to serve Pakistan. Also, one friend after years of studying suddenly decides he needs to get caught cheating so he could be thrown out of PAF academy. Not turning up, didn’t seem like a good idea. On the side, Haris and his friend are vying for Sabrina (Armeena Rana Khan). After a few bland discussions later, Sabrina chooses Haris. It is less enjoyable more painful.
5 happy years later, Sabrina decides she wants Haris to pick between the PAF and him. Didn’t we do this last Eid with PHJ? Anyhow, the hero that he is, PAF is the only choice. The 47th Top Flying Wing Competition is held in Dubai, where Flight Lieutenant Arun Virani (Hasan Niazi) makes an entrance. Obviously, our hero doesn’t like India, so there is rivalry. Or does he? I was very confused with what he wanted to be. Sara Frances (Sabeeka Imam) plays the ‘exotic’ host of this competition, in which the only actual action we saw was an obstacle race between these two men.
It goes on a while before a Indian k azayam are exposed again as a top military officer initially discredits their own ‘surgical strike’, promises an actual one and then goes on to discuss the details of it on TV. A reference to Abhinandan Varthaman is made, to much applause and the film closes. Among all this is plane dog fights, which were genuinely engaging. The VFX work is surprisingly good and it doesn’t look staged, unlike the whole film.
Mikaal Zulfiqar, is trying hard but like his last venture Na Band Na Baraati, but the story never invests in him enough. What are his motivations? Is he a man of peace? Is he an out an out warrior? The relationship with Sabrina is whimsical to say the least. In one minute, he is making fun of his friend for stepping into cow dung, the next he is saying poetic lines with fancy words about honour and pride of being a Pakistani. His character portrays the larger problem with the film; we don’t know what he/it wants. The conflicts in his life look staged. Armeena’s performance is there but then again there’s not much to do in the script. However she gets the killer line from the film; “Inko janwar bolo to bura mantay hai, sher bolo to khush hotay hain”. I thought, ah this is a fun line, may be they will reference it later. But Armeena’s character changes after that. She just gets those customary lines. Hasan Niazi, looks the most interesting character of the film. But that is perhaps because his screen time is limited.
Audience were eager to like the film. They clapped when Haris manages to save his own life, or when he downs an Indian jet or even when they anticipated a plane landing before realizing it was Serene Air’s plane. But the film offers little in terms of emotional connect. The fake family gathering laugh (you know which one) is heard plenty of times. We get to see two boys betting on gaining affection from the girl, the heroine falling into the arms of the hero, men patting each other on the back by saying ye ke na mardon wali bat and lastly the lead duo dancing in the desert wearing a suit and a sari.
The film’s editing also leaves a fair bit to be desired. At the very least it should be an hour shorter (that would need cutting down a couple of useless story tracks). Multiple scenes cut off into dark screen as if a chapter has ended. The music is unremarkable. There are a bunch of wide angle shots to showcase the beauty of certain places or the magnificence of Haris’ home or training centre but it contributes little to the story. If you enjoy watching supremely expensive killing matches exchanging fire, this film is for you. That bit has been done brilliantly. But the stitching together of the whole thing has left a bit of a bland kichri. Even if propaganda film is to be made, one has to be smart about it. You will also see a lot of men hugging in slow motion, with loud emotional background music by Shani Arshad. Also, the subtitling for some reason went all haywire about 3 quarters in the film. How can anyone miss that?
One of the wide angle shots, shows a poster of Allama Iqbal dreaming pose and a Shaheen. The Shaheen portrays the emotion among the audiences, one of be bewilderment like that uncle of 3 Idiots.