Monday 6 October 2014

O21 is better than it’s promos led us to believe

09:08 By Lollywood Online No comments

Entering the cinema for the 021 premiere I had a clear image of what the film would be : a slick Bond style film that centred around Shaan saving the day with plenty of twists and turns and enough ‘Nato supply route’ references to make it seem relevant to local audiences. It was no such thing. Anyone who entered the cinema with these expectations left confused and disappointed.
But fortunately, there were some among the audience who were willing to look beyond expectations and allow the story to tell itself rather than trying to fit it into their pre-conceived notions of what it was ‘supposed’ to be.
The publicity campaign did a great disservice to the tilm as it alienated it’s true target  audiemce. This intelligent, experimental film was falsely packaged as a desi Mission Impossible. What audiences got was dark, disconcerting and far better.
While there is action 021 is not a film that is filled with explosions and stunts. Unlike the recently released Namaloom Afraad, the film is no mere crowd pleaser.  It does not set out to just entertain but to challenge and unsettle audiences. The characters are not divided into discernable heroic ‘good guys’ and cartoonish ‘bad guys’ – they are all too human: broken, struggling and attempting to be better than what their cicumstanstances allow.
The man who we expected to be the hero mocks the very idea of puritanical heroism,  “Yeh jo sirat-e-mustaqeem ka rasta haina, ye zyada dur nahi jata,” Shaan admits near the end of the movie. The ideas of loyalty, honesty and love for country are questioned again and again – as each character claims to be doing what they are doing for the ‘greater good’ – but in the end is there a ‘good’ at all?

Plot: 021 kicks off with a dramatic scene of Abdullah (Ayub Khosa)and his men blocking a Nato supply route and retrieving a microchip which we discover contains information about Afganistan’s lithium reserves. The microchip is passed on to Kash (Shaan) a former CIA asset now based in Karachi. The CIA wants the chip back and sends its goons to extract it. Much double-crossing happens in the middle.

Like any good film though, 021 is not about the plot. It is about the take-away. Walking out of the cinema it made my skin crawl and made me uncomfortable. It was not until hours after that I was able to appreciate how well 021 succeeded in making me uncomfortable.
The plot of 021 flows in the background almost as an afterthought. We see the action through the eyes of three men Abdullah, Dost and Kash – who are all united by one thing: loss.
Abdullah feels he has lost his country, Aghanistan after the US invasion and is desperate to reclaim it by any means necesaary.
Dost, an Afghan diplomat has lost his sense of self, and ability to ascertain which side his loyalties are on.
Kash, a Pakistani born CIA operative who has been dormant for nine years has lost his wife and his career.
The microship is irrelevant – the real story is will these men be able to fight away their inner demons. Will Abdullah a man who has been trained to die for his country to be able to live for it? Can yes-man Dost take a stand against injustice? And is Kash willing to say goodbye to his old life?
These are all good men who have to make difficult decisions because in a war (contrary to what many films what like us to think) there are no simple answers.
As you head out to go watch 021 forget the gorgeous posters and promos you have seen. Instead try remembering these points:
1. It’s not a traditional spy thriller
021 is not a cliched ‘one man against the world’ film. Sure there are chase scenes and cheesy (often nonsensical) one liners but the essence of the film is more of an existensial art house in which most of the dialogue is left unsaid.
The story is about men who happen to be involved in espionage – but more then espionage 021 is a story about the nature of men.
2. It’s not hero-centric
There is no single protagonist in this film. It is an ensemble cast and all the actors have performed brilliant. Despite the hype and packaging Shaan does not play a Bond/Bourne/Hunt type character. His role is just as important Ayub Khosa’s.
The most interesting thing, for me, in the film were the parallel tracks of  Dost, Kash and Abdullah. A hero is boring. A confused man, a man with conflict is interesting and here we have three. By the end of the film we see each man change drastically and learn how to cope with a new reality.
3. It’s not good versus evil
The film’s portrayal of regional affairs was superficial at best but I was relieved to see that the writers made some attempt at balance. The ‘West’ was not shown as an all evil empire determined to destroy Afghanistan. Members of the CIA seemed to think that they were ‘just doing their job’ when they sent aggents to retrieve the microchip from Kash.
4. It’s not obvious
The structure is non-traditional with all the characters being introduced at once with no build-up or preamble (which is initially quite jarring). The director chose not follow the typical pattern of setting a scene (establishing shot, mid shot, close up) but went from one far shots to close ups and cut from one situation to the other abruptly and dramatically. While the technique was dramatic and succeeded in adding to the tension of the film, there were times when it merely left audiences confused.
5. The film is sad
If Waar captured the glory of war than 021 shows the tragedy of it. Here we see the empty spaces that are left behind after mighty explosions, we meet the men who must pick up shattered glass and pretend they do not notice the blood on it, we feel their hollow ache – a sense of all that was promised to them and a realization that promises never come true.
Final Word:
Does this film entertain? The answer depends on ones definition of entertainment. The film is thrilling, visually stunning and well-acted with multiple layers of story. There are no songs to titillate, no simple suloutions to facilitate those who would rather not think about what they are watching. It is not an easy film to watch – but it is a film with a truly unique vision – and that is truly the way to reviving cinema.


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