In Wagah, Vikram Prabhu plays Vasu, a young man from a village in Sivagangai who joins the BSF and ends up patrolling parts of Kashmir abutting “the most dangerous border in the world.” But Vasu is no patriot. As a boy, he enrolled in the NCC because the girl he liked was in there too, and now, he joins the BSF because it’s a portal to subsidised sarakku. Plus, he reasons, what are the chances of really engaging in combat? Wars are few and far between. How many conflict points this premise brings with it! A slacker discovers his inner patriot. A South Indian is transported from heat and bustle to snow and silence – he begins to feel lonely, depressed. A man used only to the fights between his father and uncle now faces rioting mobs with scant regard for Section 144. Any of these threads would make a dramatic tapestry. But the director, GNR Kumaravelan, isn’t interested.
So you think he’s going to concentrate on the love angle, one of those at-first-sight things that blooms when Vasu catches a glimpse of Khanum (Ranya Rao). For here, too, lies another conflict, that of language: Tamilian versus Kashmiri. (He savours her name and muses that in his tongue it means “missing.”) However will Vasu woo Khanum? However will he convey to her the three favourite words of the love-struck Tamil film hero? (I refer, of course, to “Oodha colour-u ribbon…”) But even this drama is dissipated when we hear everyone conversing in Tamil. A disclaimer at the film’s beginning states that this has been done in order to make the movie accessible to local audiences, but at the risk of sounding like Logic Loganathan, allow me to point out that this practice makes narrative sense only when the people on screen understand each other perfectly. So, for instance, Vasu and Khanum could be speaking in English, but their conversations could be dubbed in Tamil for the audience. Or, as in the World War II movies, it could be that we don’t mind that the Germans speak English, because English is used the world over, and it isn’t entirely improbable that high-ranking German officers speak the language.
But with a country like ours, when you employ this device lazily, you lose specificity – Kashmir becomes Ooty. Vast stretches of Wagah play out like a dubbed movie, and horror stories like that of a grandfather who yearns to see his granddaughter from Pakistan lose their power when presented this way. Khanum, thus, doesn’t come across as especially Kashmiri. She merely looks like Hansika or Tamannaah, fair-skinned, pretty, and bewildered by the dialogue sheet the assistant director just dropped off. Even otherwise, the romance is unremarkable. Vikram Prabhu is stiff, and Khanum is a northern variant of our beloved loosu ponnu-s. What does she do upon reaching land after a dangerous river crossing during which she practically drowned? She points to a village ahead, turns to Vasu, and suggests they make a race out of it. “Ready, one, two…,” she squeals, and takes off. Did I tell you about their meet-cute? She thinks he’s a terrorist and takes off his pyjamas. It’s hard to see in this silly couple the grand passion that can move mountains. Or at least limp across a valley.
Early on in Wagah, we see Vasu incarcerated in a Pakistani prison, so I don’t have to tell you the story, which unfolds as a flashback. But I will ask this. How does the director expect the audience to sweat in suspense if we already know Vasu is going to be captured? What dramatic weight, then, do his escapades have? The bad writing infects the character too. The Pakistani army is portrayed as pure evil, so evil that they’ll shoot lambs that crawl under barbed wire to their side. The action scenes are laughable, the lines inert. Okay, one line isn’t bad. It comes when the villain mocks India’s diversity of languages and religions and calls us “Delhi lendhu thookki podara elumbu thundukku vaalaattara koottam.” I can’t pinpoint the reason, but the line stung a little. But how frustrating that even in this kind of action adventure, we cannot lay off the messages. Vasu talks about India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, Israel and Palestine. I kept waiting for a pigeon to light on his shoulder.
- sarakku = booze
- Oodha colour-u ribbon… = see here
- loosu ponnu-s = an Indian cousin of this creature
- “Delhi lendhu thookki podara elumbu thundukku vaalaattara koottam.” = You dogs are happy with the scraps Delhi throws at you.
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