"I Didn't Want to Play Safe with Waar": Bilal Lashari

"I Didn't Want to Play Safe with Waar": Bilal Lashari

The director of the superhit Pakistani film Waar speaks exclusively to Masala.com on the challenges of making the action-thriller and its surprise success
"I Didn't Want to Play Safe with Waar": Bilal Lashari
Bilal Lashari on the sets

It's being pegged as the film that's changing the fortunes of the Pakistani film industry. There was already a huge buzz around Waar, an action-thriller and patriotic drama starring Shaan, Meesha Shafi, Ali Azmat, Shamoon Abbasi and Ayesha Khan, even before its release on 16 October 2013. However, no one expected it to be such blockbuster after it hit theatres. It has not only broken records in Pakistan but is also being hailed as a milestone in the industry. Its young director Bilal Lashari is naturally thrilled, albeit a bit overwhelmed by the reaction from the local as well as international press. A graduate of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, USA, Bilal has directed music videos for top Pakistani bands earlier though Waar is his first feature film. We chat with him on the stupendous success of Waar and how challenging it was to break set rules and create something new.

Congratulations on the huge success of Waar. Have the box office numbers surprised you or were you expecting it?
Frankly, I did expect the movie to do well. Right from the beginning, the idea was to go the extra mile and create something unique. Of course there are a lot of challenges in making a film like this and giving it an international look and flavor. Most people were of the opinion that to make a successful film you need to have the commercial elements – the naach gaana, local flavor etc. However Waar didn’t have any of these elements yet it clicked. The success is way beyond what we expected. I think the previous benchmark for the box office was about 10 crore but Waar crossed 18 crore in its fourth week.

How and when did you get the idea of making Waar?
Producer Hassan Rana (who has also written the film) got me on board. Creatively I had a lot of control. The idea was to make a patriotic, pro-Pakistan film. And we decided that not just in content but even the technical terms like cinematography, music and script would get top-notch treatment.

Do you think the patriotic genre is a safer bet?
Not really. The hype that Waar got was essentially from one Facebook upload which didn’t tell you much about the film.  I wouldn’t call Waar a safe bet, a safe bet would have been to go through the commercial route! This film was far from it and had a completely different look and treatment.

Weren’t you apprehensive of the risks when you started the project?
For me, it seemed the right thing to do. The Pakistani film industry was almost dying despite sticking to the “formula”. So I thought why should we play safe? Why not break the rules for a change?

What were the biggest challenges while making the film?
The biggest challenges were garnering resources. There is no working infrastructure in Pakistan for good filmmaking. Just getting the visual effects in place was a mammoth task. And this film had about 300 visual effects. We were doing something that hadn’t been attempted before. It took a lot of work and time.

Another surprising aspect is that the film has worked with the audience despite it being in English for most part. How did you cross the language barrier?
It was definitely an area of concern but I decided to go with my instincs. The script was essentially in English. Of course certain relevant parts are in Urdu, especially the conversations between the politician to his countrymen or the commander to the soldiers. Other scenes were in English but it’s interesting to note how language never posed a barrier.
Waar is basically a visual film with no heavy dialogues. The buzz about it started when the first trailer that had no dialogue but only visuals and music, went viral. The trailer looked so international that language became secondary. It’s not a difficult film to understand so people found it easier to accept despite the liberal use of English. Having said that if I were to remake it, it would probably add more Urdu to the script! However, the strategy to use English has worked with the international audience.

Waar was highly anticipated movie even before its release. How did you plan the marketing?
The distributor and media company took care of the marketing aspect. Actually, the hype started because of the trailer. The one Facebook upload of the trailer received 150000 hits.  People started talking about the film and soon it went viral. The scale was hugely encouraging for us. I would say, social media and Facebook in particular made a huge difference to creating a buzz.

Personally what kind of films do you enjoy watching? Do you follow Bollywood?
Not really, I don’t watch much of Bollywood though I was very impressed with 3 Idiots. I have grown up on Hollywood cinema and my sensibilities got further cemented when I went to film school in America. I must have seen Back to the Future about 50 times! I know all the dialogues by heart! Later on, I was fascinated by movies like Forrest Grump. My dad (Kamran Lashari) is a bureaucrat and he used to be posted to different towns, hence we moved a lot during my childhood. There wasn’t much to do in these towns except watch movies.

What’s your next project?
Well, I want to spend time with my family! It’s my first film and my first experience of dealing with this kind of attention! I was used to being in a room with a computer... so this is crazy! I have started working on a new project with a new team. But this will be a 180-degree shift from what I have done so far.


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