ISLAMABAD: This has surprisingly been a good year for Pakistani cinema. With films like Cake and Motorcycle Girl to the more commercial Parchi, 2018 has, by and large, been a breath of fresh air.
However, little did we know what Eid had in store. The idea of releasing four films (namely 7 Din Mohabbat In, Wajood, Na Band Na Baraati and Azaadi) together was a tough call, considering how the division of screens would ultimately result in competition that could prove damaging to the better film? Azaadi is one of the better films.
I decided to put my pre-conceived notions (that were built upon the song Mahiya Ve running on TV for the past couple of weeks) aside and watch it for what it is. Plus, the film promised to be a riveting ode to the struggles of Kashmiri Muslims.
Unfortunately, such was not the case. At its core, Azaadi had immense potential to not only be a commercial success but also strike a chord with those vying for Kashmir’s liberation. But writer and director Imran Malik doesn’t fully deliver in either capacity. With an inadequate script, Azaadi doesn’t quite take off. There’s no arc for any of the characters, except perhaps Sonya Hussyn’s Zara, and the film falls flat so much so that by the climax, you’re simply not interested. What could have been a varying degree of emotion and compassion turns into exhaustion.
The second half lingers on to no real plot turn. There is little to no focus on moments that could’ve made the Kashmir struggle more humane, such as Zara’s metamorphosis or Azad’s (Moammar Rana) on-screen dynamic with his father (portrayed to excellence by veteran actor Nadeem Baig). Some of the scenes are cut as if they’re straight from a failed 90s film, particularly the combats. A couple sitting next to me wanted to leave with the sheer pain of appallingly shot, edited and choreographed action sequences.
Overall, a lot is (or perhaps isn’t) left to imagination. Who funds the mujahids? Why is child marriage trivialised to an extent where it actually becomes a romantic entanglement? And most importantly, do the inhabitants of Indian-occupied Kashmir truly wish to join Pakistan? The one-dimensional narrative focuses on propaganda despite developing some gripping sub-plots that are left in thin air.
Film screening at Lok Virsa
However, Azaadi look great. Australian cinematographer Ben Jasper captures Kashmir and the actors well in a stunning backdrop (excluding a multiplex in Karachi shown as London – the audience knows better). Sonya looks the part and the camera loves her. Though her wardrobe doesn’t gel with the war-zone that’s been created, she’s a blooming star.
Moammar makes a comeback after years and we now know why. He seems to think shouting is the only way to motivate his apprentices and reminds you of a time when action heroes were required to just punch a couple of bad guys to get the girl. Despite some powerful dialogues, the actor does little to place himself back on the map. He insists you believe a faked baritone voice and well, we could’ve done without that extremely cringe-worthy scene he shares with Sonya… shirtless.
Their chemistry, however, isn’t as insipid. In fact, their final sequence together has both performing their absolute best and truly moves you, as should have the rest of the film.
Verdict: Azaadi is tedious and lacks clarity, but has its heart in the right place. Give it a watch to be partially inspired.