Sherdil Review: Patriotism and Pendulums

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The fact that March is more than halfway gone and I’m only just getting to the cinema, is more than enough cause for reprehension. However, there’s no time like the present to return to one’s passions and Sherdil provided me with just the opportunity I was so desperate probing for.

Sherdil is the latest is a long line of tribute films to the Pakistan Armed Forces. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Releasing on Pakistan Day weekend and in such a tense political climate as today’s. One ripe with patriotic fervour. The fact that is centres on a Pakistan Air Force pilot would only intensify its appeal. Sherdil, in spite of the patriotism it puts on display, is a pendulum, rocking between compelling and cringeworthy. Thankfully, writer Noman Khan and director Azfar Jafri, manage to keep it compelling long enough to outweigh the cringe. My score: 6/10

That is no mean feat however, outweighing the cringe. When it takes centre stage, it comes in droves. If Parwaaz Hai Junoon tread the edge of melodrama, Sherdil frequently crosses it. You will see me commend the filmmakers for a few things though, throughout this review. Right now, I want to commend then for portraying the powers of emotional blackmail of Pakistani parents do effectively. I just don’t the supporting cast being reduced to mere caricatures spewing thoroughly uninspired dialogue.

In fact there are only two, somewhat layered and developed characters. Mikaal Zulfiqar’s Harris and Hassan Niazi’s Arun. Their rivalry turned bromance is also something to behold and actually quite refreshing. For once, the ‘villainous Indian’ is humanised. Arun may be cocky and overconfident, but in the end, he’s just a man doing his job. A soldier following orders and fighting for his country. Just like Harris. It just so happens, that in spite learning to overcome their differences, they are pitted against each other. Some of their interactions, such as one based on the idea of Pakistan, do feel incredibly contrived though.  

The decisions Harris makes, in their final confrontation, are by far the best way to display patriotism I have seen in any Pakistani film. Rather than showing a morally self-righteous hero triumph over a morally bankrupt villain, the filmmakers add moral ambiguity to the mix. It also humanises Harris, but eventually brings him in as a hero with well deserved thunderous applause. This moment was enough to push this film towards the compelling side of things.

In fact, whenever the film focuses on the actual profession of an airforce pilot, it excels. The dogfights, the trainings, the brotherhoods, the passion, all work really well. The dogfights in particular were stunning! Yes Parwaaz Haj Junoon did a better job of that all, but Sherdil isn’t to be discounted. It however, falters immensely with the personal life aspect of said pilots. The people around Harris, his parents, his eventual wife played by Armeena Rana Khan, his grandmother and even his friends, are all mere caricatures. They provide little to no support, they don’t even contribute much to the story, aside from providing fleeting moments of comic relief or questioning of motivations for Harris.

It also doesn’t help that the narrotve fails to drive the story as well.  It remains a disjointed collection of events with no clear endgame until three quarters of the way through the second half. Essentially the antithesis of a suspenseful drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat, guessing what will happen next. Here you are guessing, well more asking, when will all of this have a point. This also results in the film feeling exasperatingly long.

The cringe inducement continues with the music as well. The soundtrack is abnoxcious.  The song sequences are forced, uninspired and wholly unnecessary. The background score is even worse. Overly and unapologetically loud, as if compensating for the lack of narrative. Well, at least something is telling us how to feel.

My expectations however, I’ve come to realise after watching Sherdil, need to be tempered. Yes, the film’s main purpose was to project patriotism but it does so much more sparingly then I assumed. The visuals were also stellar in comparison and it, despite egregious flaws, still tried to break new ground. Sherdil however, is a film stuck in between two schools of thought within Pakistani cinema. One, that chooses to mimic other industries and one that wishes to crave its own identity. It fails to truly appease both.  

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