Project Ghazi: Superhero or Sci-fi?

Project Ghazi Screengrab

In less then two weeks, a Pakistani film titled Project Ghazi will be released across the country. I am fascinated by it because amongst a tirade of bawdy comedies and ‘inspired by true events’ military sagas, the premise of this film stands out.

It revolves around major Zain (Sheheryar Munawar) an advanced soldier who is one of the few recruited for the titular project. The trailer is a snapshot of a technologically advanced Pakistan, espionage and an enemy (Adnan Jaffar) who is no doubt a by-product of the ambitious project gone wrong.

Given its unorthodox story, the film has generated buzz. But there has also been some criticism. One article called the trailer disappointing because the action sequences didn’t seem “believable”.

Although I do have to say that we are dealing with  super-soldiers, so let’s not hold our breath for believability.

Rather, I think that the actual issue with the trailer is that it is underwhelming.

Some days ago I wrote about Pakistani film trailers, and the issue I had with Yalghaar’s trailer  was that it relied too heavily on stereotypes. Humayun Saeed was sporting a Bond-villain laugh, there were way too many explosions and to top it all off we were given a sweaty muscleman montage. It was doing too much.

The problem with Project Ghazi’s promo is that it doesn’t do enough. Despite brimming with epic elements, super soldiers, giant robots, fight sequences, everything felt a bit…beige.

There was so much it could have capitalized on, from the subject matter to the fact that Talat Hussain, to arguably the most interesting villain we’ve seen yet. But nothing was properly put on the proverbial pedestal.

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A perfect example of this is that the marketing team have elected to promote the film as a Pakistan’s first superhero film.

There are two problems with this.

Firstly, the claim is a bit misleading when only two years ago we were treated to 3 Bahadur

But secondly, and more importantly, advanced soldiers, robotics, secret scientists, shouldn’t this film be classified as science-fiction instead?

Genre is always a bit tricky, because films can qualify for more than one. This may in part be why genres like romantic-comedy exist, because often one simply isn’t enough.

Science fiction (sci-fi) has its basis in science, and probability. As opposed to science fantasy which is rooted in the fantastical with some science sprinkled over it, sci-fi looks as the world as it is and then imagines the future keeping technology in mind. It asks what the world could look like if considerable scientific advancements were made.

The superhero genre focuses on a person or persons with superhuman abilities, and the notion of them in some way helping lesser humans.

In light of this a film can definitely merge elements of both superhero and sci-fi genres. For example, Iron Man is the story of an ordinary man (a genius, but very much human) who uses his technological prowess to adopt a superhero avatar. Definitely a sci-fi flick, and also definitely a superhero movie.

But many classic superhero stories also share mythological qualities. The idea often being that a hero is gifted with abilities, being “the chosen one” as opposed to being modified by earthly advancements. The perfect example of this is Superman, a super powered humanoid who literally descends from the heavens to save mankind, probably from ourselves.

This is why it is inadequate to place a movie like Project Ghazi under the superhero banner.

I can understand why the team chose to market it in this way. The term is reminiscent of the kind of blockbusters that make summer Hollywood’s favourite season. And yet their decision to do so is the most disappointing part of the whole enterprise, because it makes this otherwise unique and ambitious project part of the status quo.

Pakistanis are a fatalistic people. Our television soap operas, films, even newsreels are brimming with protagonists that never really do anything, stuff just happens to them and they accept it. We are comfortable with the superhero genre because in the most traditional sense, it too is fatalistic. Heroes are gifted their abilities; they have no active agency in obtaining them. Heroes, because they are gifted their abilities, are also bestowed with the responsibility to use them for good. Again, they have little active agency in deciding.

When someone breaks this mould, say Batman for example, when he actively chooses to educate and equip himself, it injects an active agency into a genre that is otherwise void of it. Batman, like Ironman, qualifies as sci-fi because it relies on advanced technology, and his sci-fi edge gives him an agency that his contemporaries lack.

Project Ghazi shares this quality. I have tried to find a proper revelation of the story, but they haven’t revealed much. Which is fine, all I need to get the measure of the film is the shot of Adnan Jaffar shooting down soldiers with a seemingly bionic arm.

When a team is ambitious enough to write a story that is inspired by possible scientific advancements and the active agency that accompanies it, it is underwhelming that they then choose to lump it under the superhero banner.

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