Akbar S. Ahmads project to make a film on the founder of the Pakistan state was the subject of a fierce and protracted controversy last year. Now that the film, Jinnah, is nearly complete, it has been shown to prospective buyers and others, whose help may be needed to meet the finishing costs. But what the producers have to show at the moment raises even more difficult questions than what they have so far faced – primarily to do with the script and the casting of Christopher “Dracula” Lee in the title role.
Some other major deficiencies apart, the main problem with the film appears to be in the flawed approach to the subject. It deals neither with the life of the Quaid nor with his work; both are touched upon only episodically in the course of defend ing the Quaids character and politics. This framework reduces the narrative to a string of anecdotes and brief pronouncements, damaging both the films unity and movement.
But first a few welcome surprises. In view of the myths created about Jinnah and the Pakistan movement by latter-day inventors of the Pakistan ideology, many people were genuinely concerned that due respect might not be paid in the film to the Quaids liberal, democratic creed or to his secular credentials. Such distortion has been avoided. Jinnahs impatience with conservative clerics has not been glossed over.
The film also avoids the language commonly used in Pakistan for Indias Congress leaders who opposed the idea of a separate Muslim nation. Here, they are not overly ridiculed. Nehrus amorous encounters with Lady Mountbatten have certainly been given more footage than the films theme warranted, but otherwise the Congress leaders are real persons and not caricatures. Both Gandhi and Nehru are allowed their arguments, and Jinnah is asked to seriously counter them.
The film is conceived as Jinnahs trial before history – history as personified by Indian actor Shashi Kapoors vaguely defined role as the keeper of souls at heavens gate. He is not exactly a prosecutor, he only raises certain issues to which Jinnah, at the end of his mortal existence, has to respond before his fate in the hereafter can be determined. The most important question, of course, concerns Jinnahs insistence on Partition. The consistent reply is that there was no other way to protect the interests of the Muslim community.
Pakistan, according to Jinnah, became inevitable once Gandhi invoked religious idiom to promote his strategy of non-violent satyagraha. Jinnahs warning that this strategy would not only divide communities, but also families, went unheeded. Considerable emphasis has been placed on Gandhis last-minute suggestion to accept Jinnah as the first prime minister of a free united India, an idea shown as unwelcome to Nehru and, more than him, to Lady Mountbatten. The offer was rejected as a trick by “that wily Gandhi”.
Towards the end of the film, the argument is sought to be clinched by confronting Nehru, also at the heavenly computer operators command (by pressing a button our man can travel in time), with the demolition of the Babri Masjid. While Nehru argues that he had outlawed the religious fanatics responsible for the outrage, Gandhi reminds Jinnah that he himself was killed by religious extremists for having accepted Pakistan. What the film lacks in regard to this debate is any reference to the use of the religious slogan by the Quaid and his associates, and its exploitation in the state created by them.
The second charge Jinnah is required to answer concerns his relations with his wife and daughter. While notice is taken of Peti Dinshaws fit of anger at the discovery of his young daughter Rutties at tachment to Jinnah, of her conversion to Islam and of Jinnah crying at her grave, the only defence offered is Jinnahs inability to demonstrate the love he bore for his wife. The impression that the argument has been left inconclusive is strengthened by the filmmakers omission to show the couple living together except for a single outing on horses. One also feels that the liveliness attributed to Ruttie has been converted into something resembling frivolity. As regards the relationship between Jinnah and daughter Dina, mutual attachment is stressed, but when Dina announces her decision to marry a young Parsi, the politician in Jinnah suppresses parental affection, though not without pain.
The third issue is the bloody course of Partition, the uprooting of millions of people, and the wanton killing by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Jinnahs defence is that he himself died a million deaths during the riots – the blame lay on the British arbitrators who betrayed his trust. Radcliffe is called in to testify that he changed the Punjab boundary award at Mountbattens behest, thus depriving Pakistan of the only military arsenal (Ferozepur) it could have got.
Finally, there is the unresolved issue of Kashmir. Jinnah summons Mountbatten and Lt General Douglas Gracey (Acting Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army) to testify, and the implication is that Mountbattens intrigue could have been frustrated if Gracey had not disobeyed the Pakistan governments orders. Jinnah describes his act as mutiny and Gracey counters with the observation: “Mutiny is too large a word to be used in a country like Pakistan.” So far as the filmmaker is concerned, the matter ends there. It may not be considered so by those who have suffered as a result of such mutinies more than once.
The hazard a filmmaker runs while dealing with a legendary personality is that viewers tend to get so engrossed in issues of the subject figures authenticity and wholesome ness, like in comparing images on the screen with the stereotype nourished by legend, that the directors labour does not get the attention it deserves. Jamil Dehlavi will surely be blamed for agreeing to handle a poor script and for settling for small gatherings to depict larger-than-life characters in the act of galvanising mammoth crowds (something Attenborough did not forget while making his Gandhi), but he handles the technical requirements rather well, especially the art of crisp cutting.
However, in the final analysis, Dehlavis work is undone by the flawed concept. Jinnahs life, or the life of any great man, cannot be described as a chronicle of events or in terms of intros preceding press statements. So what we have here is a disjointed piece worthy of hack journalism where one seeks in vain for the opportunities that cinema, like literature, offers in looking beyond newspaper headlines and probing beneath appearances, getting to the core of a characters heart, and analysing his moves. Cinema scores high when instead of justifying a life it enables one to understand it. It is doubtful if the filmmakers understand the milieu in which Jinnah worked.
As for Christopher Lees performance, except for a few scenes from the forties, he plays the after-death Jinnah and suffers in comparison with the younger actor who portrays Jinnahs early life. There are characters one has difficulty in identifying with, though the person chosen to play Miss Jinnah is an exception.
The real surprise is in the filmmakers disregard for the target audience. Neither the British nor the Indian audience will find reason to like this film and in Pakistan the religious lobby could make matters difficult for the films producers and those who backed it. Such courageous disregard for audience reaction can be admired; only that ignorance and public money ought not to have been involved.