September issue 2018

By | Movies | Published 4 weeks ago

Parwaaz Hai Junoon is Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s Top Gun, Hollywood’s aerial action movie that skyrocketed Tom Cruise’s acting career. In the role of Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Cruise played a young, ace naval aviator who delights in taking daring risks with his multi-million dollar fighter aircraft. Hamza Ali Abbasi’s character in Parwaaz Hai Junoon is similar, except in this case the actor’s celebrity persona was tapped into for the prime role of his almost-namesake, Hamza Ali Shah, a top-notch PAF fighter pilot who thrills in aerial combat.

Essentially a tribute to the PAF, Parwaaz Hai Junoon showcases the capabilities of the air force and offers a glimpse into their world. The film’s central character is Sania (Hania Amir) who, at the start of the film, is shown downing her sixth cup of tea in a chilly mountainside suburb. She asks for six more cups to be made for herself, as a PAF F-16 jet fighter soars across the hilly landscape. She fondly watches it disappear into the horizon and the movie takes us back to two turning points in her life that are shown concurrently – when she first meets the love of her life, Hamza Ali Shah, and when she decides to try and become an air force cadet.

Hamza is already an ace bomber when the pair first meet. Just before heading home with his wingman, Nadir Kirmani (Shaz Khan), for the latter’s upcoming nuptials, both fighter pilots successfully shoot down two hostile aircraft that had infiltrated Pakistani airspace from the eastern border. In a thrilling aerial dogfight, a third Mirage 2000 is recklessly chased back into enemy territory by Hamza, even though the guns of his F-17 aircraft had jammed.

Sania and Hamza’s encounter is somewhat clichéd. At Nadir’s glittering, fun-filled wedding, Hamza eyes Sania, the bride’s closest gal-pal, and thereafter follows the formula of romance after a dance. However, very much like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, Hamza serenades his love-interest with long rides on his fancy motor-bike.

Sania’s second life-changing phase begins when she is seen reassuring her distressed mother that joining the air force was the right decision. After passing the demanding aptitude tests conducted in the assorted PAF training colleges dotting the country, Sania subsequently faces the selection board who point out that she barely meets the minimum height requirement and the physical capability to make the cut, but they accept her because she scores high in all her other tests. Sania, with her bright pink suitcase, arrives at the Risalpur training academy with other recently-enrolled young cadets of the PAF that includes Saad (Ahad Raza Mir).

The film then focuses on the tough training a cadet has to undergo to qualify as an air force pilot. While excelling in class, Sania stumbles through the strenuous physical training and has to put up with a conceited, misogynistic Saad who does not miss a single opportunity to ridicule her and other female cadets, proclaiming loudly that the air force is no place for women. The storyline in the first half is needlessly long and tends to drag. Comic relief is provided by Sania’s batch-mate and the class clown, Zaid (Syed Shafaat Ali), whose bumbling gets their entire batch punished on more than one occasion. 

However, the lead actors have done justice to their roles despite the gruelling conditions while filming in what must have been freezing temperatures. 

While Hamza plays the pilot to a T, it is Hania’s performance as the carefree, happy-go-lucky girl, whose life takes unexpected turns and who confronts every challenge with a determination, that is truly impressive. She may well have enthused other aspiring women pilots. Ahad Raza Mir’s intense portrayal as Sania’s fiercely competitive and arrogant batch-mate, Saad, can make your blood boil, but that goes to his credit.  

The cinematography captures stunning visuals of majestic mountains and valleys of northern Pakistan, as well as the danger and exhilaration of flying and the courage of the individuals who are crazy enough to take up the challenge. The three Directors of Photography (DoP) do a slick job with the flying sequences, intense dogfights, aerial bombing, and well-choreographed ground-to-air battles with the Taliban.  

All these plus points aside, Parwaaz Hai Junoon, unfortunately suffers from a weak screenplay, which is surprising since it has been scripted by Farhat Ishtiaq, the author of two of TV’s biggest hits, Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Humsafar. The dialogues are predictable in countless places. A film produced to laud the armed forces would understandably require a measure of patriotism, but Parwaaz on occasion goes overboard and sounds preachy. A little subtlety would have gone a long way.    

However, Parwaaz Hai Junoon directed by Haseeb Hassan, the veteran director of TV hits like Dayar-e-Dil and Mann Mayal, is the perfect choice of film with which to recruit future air force cadets. From the training colleges, to the fighter aircrafts, to the immediate responses to violation of the country’s air space and terrorism would all hold appeal for aspiring fighter pilots. And though the film lacks punch, it is nevertheless a valiant effort and deserves to be seen.

The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.