Azaadi is Lollywood’s first attempt at romancing with Kashmir at a much closer level. The movie is set in present-day Kashmir which is battling with state repression.
And the audience in the theatre was as keen on the movie as Pakistan’s current foreign policy on Kashmir. Except for a couple who had planned to make-out in an empty theatre, there was hardly anyone else.
Azaad, the main protagonist, played by Moammar Rana, is the only son of a pro-freedom leader in Kashmir. Azaad is not convinced by his father’s views on Kashmir initially until Indian Army rapes a close family member.
Azaad joins the rebel ranks in the mountains and goes on to become India’s most wanted rebel in Kashmir.
Zara is a British-Kashmiri journalist played by Sonya Hussain. Married to her cousin Azaad, Zara lands in Kashmir for an assignment. She also plans to get her divorce papers signed from Azaad during this trip. So that she is all clear for marriage with her boyfriend.
Zara is not able to get the divorce papers signed since Azaad is not home. Until an interview offer by Azaad, which she accepts reluctantly, sends her to the rebel camp.
Zara sleeps the night there only to wake up to Azaad awkwardly staring at her bosom. Zara panics and Azaad tells her “meri biwi ho tum, socha aaj jee bhar k dekh lun tumhe.”
For a moment, you wonder if Azaad’s character is inspired by the likes of Burhan Wani and Maqbool Bhat or that of Shahrukh, Salman romantic comedies.
Zara tells Azaad about the divorce, Azaad is shocked. He agrees to divorce her on one condition – that Zara spends a week with him. What!
Okay here’s the typical predictable Hum Dil De Chukey Sanam turn. Zara falls in love with Azaad again as she sneak peaks into Azaad’s routine. On one instance, Zara catches Azaad exercising shirtless. Azaad is lifting stones instead of weights.
Okay, Salman Khan? Not until you dance shirtless, so there it is. Azaad and Zara romance in the woods, scene changes to places in Europe and Mauritius with Azaad and Zara dancing awkwardly to the likes of Bollywood music. What!
Azaad and his companions plan to blow up an Indian army camp in Bandipora (they call it Bindipora in the movie). Umair (a software engineering student turned rebel) heroically uses his software engineering talent and accesses Google maps to find security loopholes. Wow!
The bomb’s signalling system fails and Umair explains that the bomb has to be detonated manually.
Long story short, Azaad is injured while detonating the bomb and then arrested.
A verdict of death penalty is given against Azaad. He is hanged. Azaad’s video message from the prison is leaked which starts an uprising.
1. The setting of the militant camp itself is a comedy of errors. It looks like a tourist camp with all modern facilities except for electricity. Yet Zara and Umair are shown accessing internet and laptops are charged. They have tea, boiled eggs, and all kinds of fruits, puri parathas, and what not in their breakfast.
2. Except for a few men wearing pheran, the traditional Kashmiri attire in winters, everyone seems to be having a thing of their own.
Similarly, all the rebels are well groomed, well dressed like they are being auditioned for a reality show.
Zara’s dressing fails to merge with the place she is in. Zara can be seen trekking the mountains with militants wearing heels. What!
3. It shows footages of war helicopters firing missiles on Kashmiri population. I didn’t get the memo, when did this happen?
4. Revenge being the only reason to fight. Not a single companion of Azaad has decided to fight India without a personal reason. This portrayal is very dangerous, it implies that the common Kashmiri youth is otherwise astray, and only fights to avenge the injustice done to him.
5. One instance, an Indian major asks for bribe to release a youth. Father of youth comes running to the military camp and says he sold his kidney. What!
6. All the Indians (including soldiers) fail at acting. They speak Urdu words with Hindi accents. For example, “Tum hamare khilaf Ehtijaaj kyun kartey ho” with a Hindi accent.
8. The casual romances between a Kashmiri youth wearing “La-ilaha-illalah” band on his forehead and his out of place half divorced wife only take the focus away. Believe me, sometimes, it makes one cringe.
Although the movie is set in Kashmir, the movie makers take the liberty to show generic drone shots of any mountain range and label it as Kashmir. I could reckon the Alps too.
Furthermore, the creative brains fail to understand the Kashmir discourse. The portrayal of the tragedy they have tried to portray is a bigger tragedy.
The ammunition that the rebels carry in the movie are far from reality. They have high-tech snipers with electronic viewfinders, they have M-16 rifles, I could barely spot Kalashnikovs.
With inspirations from Mahira Khans, Fawad Khans and Hamza Ali Abbasis, this is one area where Pakistani cinema always impresses us. Azaadi fails here too.
Moammar Rana and Sonya Hussain are trying too hard to fit in the characters. The Indian majors are trying too hard to get their accents correct. The sisters are trying too hard not to fake cry in every scene.
An evident disconnect can be seen between the actors and the characters they are trying to portray.
Nadeem Baig, playing Azaad’s father, is the only actor who seems to be aware of what he is doing, just like his character.
Azaadi tries to take the wheel from Bollywood to try and turn the things around from the likes of Raazi, Mission Kashmir and Lamha, but fails at it miserably.
Most of the scenes, too sweet by half and overacted by double and sprinkled with lots of misappropriation should have been in the trash long before this movie was put out.
I might as well go on to say that Haider, in spite of its downsides, is a far better movie on Kashmir. Azaadi, just a mockery of Kashmir’s struggle for Azaadi.
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