Wagah – A Borderline Drama

I say the film is a ‘border’line drama only for the pun. The film is much lower than that; at least, the end product is, because what director Kumaravel has hoped to bring on screen is an interesting premise, but what we are shown is… you will know.

Firstly, what spurred my interest to catch the film was that it was about an Indian soldier’s love for a Pakistani girl, set in the tense and ‘priceless’ (the film says, and so it appears) Wagah border separating India and Pakistan. Well, a clichéd one-liner certainly, but the director had come carrying on his shoulder the critical acclaim of his maiden venture, Haridas, which I still haven’t seen, but believe is a good film.

Wagah starts with Vasu (Vikram Prabhu) in a Pakistani jail, beaten up to bleed all his blood for having tried to escape. He is a BSF Jawan who has gone missing at the border, and in the jail, we see hope in his eyes. Flashback. Vasu is not an ideal man. He is careless and fun-loving, and even disrespects the national flag in the school assembly… as his eyes were on the girl he is attracted to. When he grows up, he wants to join the Indian Army just so that he could drink cold beer at a discounted price while rolling on Kashmiri ice with no dress (all his words).

God save our country, he is inducted into the training program, and after a few weeks, is given what I think is an AK-47, and posted at the border. Just after two days, he loses interest in his job and goes mad owing to the solitude of the ice-capped mountains and lush green ground. Right when he totally loses interest in his life he accidently meets Kanum (Ranya Roy), and falls in love with her. From this point, the only thing that makes him stay in his job is his love for that girl and his frequent evening trips to the nearby village where she stays. A great premise indeed! What the director could have done to further the story… How he could have taken the character arc of Vasu… There is so much potential, so many interesting internal and external conflicts to explore, but sadly, and sometimes frustratingly, the film wants to be as careless as its lead character.

There is very poor writing for the heroine. We know her true story only at the interval point. So much screen time is wasted on back-to-back songs that don’t stick at all. Interestingly, the only tune that seems slightly likeable is the one that comes after Vasu is captured by the Pakistan Army.

Another thread that seems interesting is Vasu’s stay in the jail. His co-prisoners are jingoistic men from the Indian Army, and he is the only guy who doesn’t care about his country or its protection. He still wants to escape only for his girl, and this only irks the men there. When Vasu is pitted to fight against an Indian officer, and is told that he can escape death only if wins the fight, everyone wants Vasu to die and the other officer to win and escape the disgraceful death waiting at the end.

How he escapes this prison, which is run illegally, is what we are shown soon after, but even the escape is so bland that we want Vasu to get shot in the forehead and the film to end. But we are asked to gape at an action sequence where he dodges bullets and other firepower so easily and comes out alive to expose the illegal jail run by the Pakistani army, not without a preachy message directed at the villain about nationalism, conflicts between neighbouring nations and how they are fuelled by superpowers like America. All this in the foreground of a patriotic composition beginning with Vande mataram…

God save our country, and cinema.

12 Angry Men

“Life is in their hands and death is in their minds”. Thus states a poster of the film I was recommended to watch by my movie-maniac friend. I heard it’s a black and white movie and had been shot entirely inside one room. Well, quite out of the way right, so I decided to give it a try and thus went on for the one hour thirty six minute ride. At the end of it I was left with questions like how come I missed this movie all these years and why hadn’t I heard of Henry Fonda before.

12 angry men starts with a worm’s eye view shot of the United States courthouse, giving us a false sense that it is going to deal with law related subjects. We are then taken to a courtroom where the fate of a boy who had allegedly killed his father is been given to the hands of a jury, consisting of only men. Among these men is one juror, Henry Fonda. The jury retires to their room and we are shown that the weather is very hot and that the only fan in the room is out of order. These may preliminarily seem to be insignificant observations, but as the movie progresses we understand that they play an important role in mentally aggravating the already chaotic situation and provoking heated conversations. While all men are convinced that the boy is guilty of murder charge it is Fonda who opposes them single-handedly saying he doesn’t know if the boy is guilty or otherwise but that it is their responsibility to give him a fair discussion and enough thought before coming to an unanimous  verdict. Thus begins a series of heated discussions sprinkled with slapstick comedy here and there without meaning to destroy the crux of the plot. Also beautifully shown is the mental instability of the jurors as new interpretations are drawn from already presented facts. They are equally spaced for them to sink in the minds of the audience and the changing mindset of the jurors is well synchronized with that of the audience. After all, what is a film if you can’t relate yourself to it?

Coming to the technical aspects of the film, my first appreciation goes to the cinematographer. I am sure he would have had a tough time setting up the frame and composition for each and every shot in a small room filled with 12 men and a couple of light sources. Even though the screenplay cannot be altered much from its linear course, the writers have amazingly built it to suit the mood of both the jurors and the surrounding. The direction unit is effective as can be seen from the coordination of the twelve men, though I wonder how many takes the director would have gone for before approving a shot. The music drawn suits the mood well, we are tensed and surprised when and where we are supposed to be (a special mention goes to a piece made of violin which comes as an emotional supplement when the boy in question is shown).

When the English department of my college decided to screen the film I was more than happy to take the ride a second time. In all, the film is a must-watch and certainly deserves critical appreciation.