Let me preface this by saying that Shaan Shahid’s body of work speaks for itself. He has nothing to prove to anyone with regards to his acting prowess, experience, or stardom. That said, “Zarrar” is a disappointing experience through and through.
It’s no secret that “Zarrar” is Shaan’s baby. He’s been working on the film for the better part of a decade now and is both the writer and director. So, it pains me to say that the final product looks like it’s been mercilessly butchered.
Kiran Malik: The Shining Light in the Darkness
Kiran Malik is definitely the best part of “Zarrar”. She’s given the shallow character of a journalist who’s sold out her integrity for bribes and kickbacks to the highest bidding politician. However, even with mediocre dialogue, you can’t help but appreciate her talent.
In one scene, she’s promoting a new book written by her father, literally called “Truth” (wow that’s subtle). As she mourns her father, a journalist who was assassinated for his integrity, she gives a performance that elevates the film, if just for a few minutes.
She also delivers the only dialogue in the film which I genuinely loved, “Sach sirf sooli pe latka hua acha lagta hai” (The truth is only appreciated when it’s crucified).
The Far Reaching Ambition
The concept of “Zarrar” is far different from the average Pakistani thriller. Shaan Shahid’s field of vision is wide enough to focus on political favours, media influence, failed states, hybrid warfare, and nuclear arsenals.
The story is all about how global players are trying to compromise Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal by declaring it a failed state. No matter how much truth there is to the plot, audiences will relate to the film since it identifies with the current state of Pakistan, its economic woes and the scuffles with the IMF, FATF, World Bank, etc.
Zarrar’s main plot is about a plot to incite terrorism and confusion in Pakistan. The villains are RAW, a network of private operators in the UK and France, and India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval!
Also connected are corrupt Pakistani politicians and Afghani warlords. While this is not a wholly original plot, nor is it subtle, it still could’ve resulted in a fun spy thriller. Unfortunately, the plot falls apart in too many places.
“Zarrar” was supposed to be released long before the pandemic, and so changes have been made to keep pace with the world at present. The prelude shows stock footage of the American retreat from Afghanistan that occurred in 2021. However, the result of this change clearly had an overarching effect on the plot that left it a shell of its former self.
The biggest giveaway is the awful, and painfully obvious dubbing. All the actors are clearly speaking English in various scenes but have been dubbed over in Urdu. Scenes have been slowed down to jittery frame rates to focus away from the actors’ faces so that the audience doesn’t notice the disconnect between their mouths moving and the dub.
The plot isn’t exactly deep or thought provoking either. The film’s exploration of things like hybrid warfare, terrorism, journalistic ethics, corruption, etc. is all surface level.
Even when the legendary Nadeem Sahab, who plays a retired ISI Colonel, is talking about suicide bombers while assembling a gun, you never feel the weight of his dialogue. It’s because he’s not saying anything that hasn’t been said a dozen times over.
The first thing you’re bound to notice in “Zarrar” is the horrendous editing. The film cuts to different locations so often at key scenes that you’re not sure how the characters ended up there.
This happens when Kiran Malik’s character, also named Kiran, suddenly ends up in Turkey after interviewing a corrupt politician played by Nayyer Ejaz, and when Shaan ends up in a large compound out of nowhere, hunting down terrorists and a RAW agent played by Shafqat Cheema.
Editing is an art that can make the crucial difference between a good and a bad film. Here, it clearly works for the latter.
The Choppy Action Choreography
When “Waar” came out in 2013, that opening scene set the bar for all proceeding action films. The bar for action choreography was set higher when “Teefa in Trouble” hit the big screen in 2018. However, this year, “The Legend of Maula Jatt” pushed the bar into the stratosphere with the Gandasa, knife, sword, and axe combat.
If “Zarrar” was released a few years before these films, it may have passed for an acceptable action film. Today, it just seems like a half-baked effort not worth the ticket price.
It truly pains me to say this, but “Zarrar” is not worth your time. Even though years of effort went into it, it’s simply a bad film. Whether the bad dubs, editing and plot changes were Shaan Shahid’s own doing, or a film studio’s, they clearly ruined what perhaps was a much better product.