Popular and humane
`Jinnah', a Pakistani answer to `Gandhi', is an attempt to redeem the reputation of the much-maligned personality. A review by S. THEODORE BASKARAN.
Jinnah in London ... discussions on Partition.
"JINNAH" opens, "Citizen Kane"-like, showing Jinnah on his deathbed. He is taken down from a plane in a stretcher, into a waiting ambulance that disappears into a cloud of dust across an arid plain. The ambulance breaks down and the story is in flashback.
Made at a modest budget of $5 million, the film is predominantly the effort of a few Pakistani expatriates in Britain to redeem the reputation of the much-maligned Jinnah. It is an answer to Attenborough's "Gandhi" (1982) that depicted Jinnah as the core manipulator of the Partition drama. The moving spirit behind the venture, Akbar Ahmed, diplomat and scholar, has also scripted the film, based largely on his book of eponymous title. Ahmed believes that British historians have presented us a distorted picture of Jinnah and has tried to humanise Jinnah by portraying certain aspects of his life such as his stormy relationship with his wife and daughter. The scene in which Jinnah breaks down and weeps on seeing his wife's body is crucial to this effort.
Jamil Dehlavi, who has to his credit prize-winning films like "The Blood of Hussain" (1980), is the film's director, which is compact and seamlessly edited. Through ingenious cinematic devices, he darts back and forth in time, covering a vast of terrain in each scene. While creating a biographical film, filmmakers usually adopt a linear, realistic narrative style as in Benegal's "The Making of the Mahatma" (1995). But Dehlavi by cleverly choosing a non-linear format is able stride across different decades. There is one scene in which the old Jinnah watches the young Jinnah at a dinner party, a scene that recalls Dr. Isak Borg observing himself as a boy at a family dinner in Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" (1957). In another, you see Gandhi watching the demolition of Babri Masjid on the television news.
Another cinematic device from "Citizen Kane" (1941) put to use in this film is the narrator. In "Kane", it is the reporter and, in this film, it is a nameless character; but he is more than a narrator. He appears to be an archangel sent down to conduct a divine review of the historic events that led to Partition. So let me refer to him as Shashi Kapoor, who plays the role admirably well.
"The truth must be found out," Shashi Kapoor says at the beginning of the film and sets out to find it. The archives do not contain any document and the computer he transcends time shows that the files are missing. "Now we can look at the facts," he says and the scene dissolves into the next, showing Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten together. The film suggests that Nehru's closeness to Lord Mountbatten, via Edwina, was a key factor in the decisions taken during Partition.
Dehlavi makes the point that the bond between Jinnah and the people is one between a leader and his people and that there is nothing Islamic about it. Jinnah saw himself as a political leader and not as a religious one. An Ismaili brought up in Bombay and educated in Great Britain, Jinnah dreamt of a liberal, progressive Pakistan, like Kemal Ataturk's vision of Turkey. He married a Parsi and she is shown smoking in their home.
When a group of fundamentalists protest about women being treated equal, Jinnah gets angry and shouts "Grow Up" to them. There is a scene of the Huksars disrupting a meeting at which Jinnah is speaking, in protest against his liberal views. In fact, the Huksars made an attempt on Jinnah's life.
Jinnah's evolution as a popular leader is depicted effectively, visually. In earlier scenes he addresses audiences in Western attire. Later, in 1940, when the Muslim League passes the Pakistan resolution, his audience is made up of common folk, squatting on the floor and listening to him.
The casting of Christopher Lee, of "Dracula" fame as Jinnah is a strong point. He transcends his screen persona and ensures a masterly performance. Shireen Shah, as Jinnah's sister, the selfless individual serving her brother and Pakistan, makes that character stand out crisply. James Fox [Richard Fielding in "The Passage to India" (1982)] plays Lord Mountbatten. Sam Dastoor, a London-theatre personality, plays Gandhi, with an authentic Saurashtrian accent.
Gandhiji and Jinnah ... "men must be judged by the love they have shown".
Making a historical film is like walking a tight rope. The filmmaker has to create a period ambience and avoid anachronisms. Dehlavi clearly succeeds in this. The Dakota plane, the automobiles, the costume, phone and the minutiae of an upper class home in British India, such as the faucets, the curtains and the cutlery, have all received close attention. Ignore the portrayal of Gandhi as old and bare-torsoed at the Lahore Congress of 1920. He was only 51 then and would give up the upper garment much later.
The background music, however, is mostly western classical and is not so evocative of the land where the events take place. It seems unrelated. Is it not the home of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the like, we wonder?
In the final sequence, Shashi Kapoor takes Jinnah to watch a trial: Mountbatten, Cyril Radcliff, who was sent by the British Government to finalise Partition and Gen. Douglas Gracie, commander of the Pakistan army during Partition are put on trial. Shashi Kapoor doubles up as the judge. Crucial and often leading questions are asked and the answers put the blame on the doorsteps of Mountbatten. There is no judgment. But Shashi Kapoor refers to the death of Mountbatten at the hands of the Irish Republican Army.
It is this focus on Mountbatten and Nehru that questions the integrity of the film. There is not much on the movement to gain Pakistan. How did it begin, grow and culminate in the 1940 resolution? What were the historic forces at work? By what he chooses and omits to show and what he emphasises, a filmmaker can give a fictional flavour to a biopic and this can be observed in "Jinnah" also. In the end, it fails to convince, in spite of the excellent craftsmanship. It undermines its own legitimacy by focussing on Nehru and Mountbatten as the key factors in the Partition drama.
There is a scene in which Liaquat Ali Khan brings a bunch of letters, purported to have been written by Nehru to Edwina, and suggests publicity. Jinnah turns down the idea as being undignified. Is this a fact? It shows Liaquat Ali Khan in bad light and the news is that his family objected to the scene.
Jinnah tells Shashi Kapoor in the last sequence, "Men must be judged by the love they have shown." The film goes on to show a vast concourse of refugees, trudging along a dusty road, from Ferozpur into Pakistan. Shashi Kapoor leads Jinnah to a cart to meet a little girl who had lost her mother in the riots. Jinnah places his hand on her head and says, "I am sorry." The child's father butts in and says that the people are grateful to him for creating Pakistan for them. The camera zooms out as the crowd hails Jinnah, which is the closing scene.
"Jinnah," 110 minutes, English, 1998, Produced by Jamil Dehlavi and Akbar Ahmed. Camera: Nic Knowland. Music: Nigel Clarke and Michael Csanyi-Wills.
Send this article to Friends by