AND so finally we have the Pakistani reply to the film Gandhi, or as Akbar Ahmed, the producer of Jinnah says, a film that rises above mere reply. The film, scheduled for worldwide release this year, had caused some embarrassment in Pakistan when Christopher Lee, celebrated for his roles as Dracula, was invited to play Jinnah. Especially since it was part of Pakistan's golden jubilee plan to revive the image of Jinnah. That, a sneak preview of the film shows, is probably the least of its problems.
In fact, the film had become controversial even before it could be released. The film was blessed by the Benazir Bhutto government, but the new regime has been less than enthusiastic. And the content of the film is bound to stir up a host of debates. Lord Mountbatten (played by James Fox) has been portrayed as quite a villain and his wife Edwina (played by Maria Atkins of A Fish Called Wanda fame) as something of a Lady Macbeth. Not many historians agree with the producers that the events around Partition rested on a supposed relationship between Nehru and Edwina.
But to the film. It features two Jinnahs: Jinnah the historical figure of the days leading up to Partition, and the Ghost of Jinnah who is shown visiting the past in the company of Shashi Kapoor, Heaven's Librarian. But Kapoor is more than Librarian. He decides, judge-like, who goes to Hell and who to Heaven. An early shot shows him taking a phone call in his computer-ridden office. "No appeal," he tells the caller. "Tell him to go to Hell." Through the film, Kapoor conducts an investigation of pre-Partition events in the company of Jinnah's Ghost. The two keep popping into the past to chat about events as they happen. Kapoor must know before he can judge. Any guesses where he finally sends Jinnah? And Nehru and Gandhi? Wait.
Jinnah, poised between Heaven and Hell, tells Kapoor he had no thought except for the safety of the Muslims of India. Kapoor responds: "I process thousands of souls every day. I can't get emotionally involved. Just the facts." Now follow "just the facts" as seen, and shown, by Ahmed.
The first shot shows the feet of Edwina in bed. Nehru (Rashid Sorvardi) is sitting by them, on her bed, stroking her hand. "At Harrow I called everyone sir," he is telling her by way of small talk. This is only their first bedroom scene. Another is at daybreak, with Edwina in bed, Nehru just out of it, drawing the curtains. The momentous political decisions of the time are taken in bed.
Edwina: "Where did the time go? I never notice it when I am with you."
Nehru: "I count every second. Very precious. What will you say to Dicky?"
Edwina: "I'll say I was with you—talking. He wants us to be close."
Nehru: "I feel that too, but why?"
Edwina: "Well, there's one person in the world who explains something so difficult. He stands before me."
Nehru: "Really, the mind of an Anglo-German aristocrat."
Edwina: "Even that...."
Nehru: "Well, there's the deep answer and the shallow answer."
Edwina: "Have the shallow one first.
Nehru: "You won't mind if it's indelicate?"
Edwina: "Guide's honour."
Nehru: "After being married for 20 and more years, Dicky doesn't want you any more in that compelling way."
Edwina: "Seems a very shallow answer to me. And the deep reason?"
Nehru: "It's because he understands that friendship's rare and that we've found it."
Edwina: "And he doesn't want to disrupt it with jealousy or whatever."
Nehru: "No, no, he knows that we have found it and...he wants to be a part of it. He wants it to be the three of us. And he's willing to...it's difficult...it's not a sharing...."
Edwina: "No, no, you're right. He has the deepest admiration for you. You see you've had so much more than he's ever had. He has power, but you have the love of millions, and he wants to feel there's something, something very deep between you and him too. He can never bring himself to say it."
Nehru: "I know, he's an Englishman."
Edwina: "And the only way he knows is to lend me to you."
Nehru (stroking her face): "I understand."
Edwina: "Too well, perhaps." History follows. Mountbatten has a bit of a complex, Edwina says, that "he's the King's cousin, and that's why we got the job". But, she adds, "If Congress were to invite him to..."
Nehru completes it: "...were to invite him to become India's governor-general, I think it will be a great honour for us. And it will please Bapu."
But Mountbatten wants also to be gover -nor-general of Pakistan, and he invites Jinnah to the lawns of his residence to invite him. Jinnah declines because his Muslim League has chosen him. "You realise, Mr Jinnah, that this will cost you dear," Mountbatten tells him. "It will cost you the future of Pakistan, everything. You won't have a wooden table or chair in an office in your Pakistan. Or the money to buy an olive green army water bottle." And so the angered Mountbatten robs Pakistan of Ferozepur and Kashmir and refuses to protect Muslims from killings.
A note is brought to Jinnah that the Maharaja of Kashmir has signed accession to India. Jinnah surveys it angrily through his monocle. "Kashmir is a Muslim state," he says. "Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan." The messenger has more to say: "Sir, we have reports that the Indian army is already in Kashmir, and they are being personally directed by Mountbatten." Earlier his sister Fatima tells him that Ferozepur has gone to India. "But that's Muslim territory and our major arsenal," Jinnah protests. "It's Mountbatten," his sister tells him, "with Nehru whispering in his wife's ear."
As the film moves into the final stages of the 'trial' conducted in an open square with hundreds of Pakistanis watching, a British officer in charge of the military in Pakistan confesses that he did nothing to stop the Indian forces under Mountbatten. "I wasn't going into war with another officer commissioned by the King," he says. And Sir Cyril Radcliffe who drew up the boundary between India and Pakistan confesses that on Mountbatten's orders he turned a straight line into a curve to give Ferozepur with its military arsenal to India. Here Jinnah too has a confession to make: "I am guilty of trusting Lord Mountbatten and the British officers who came to command my army at my request."
With the advantage of celestial omnipresence, the Ghost of Jinnah and Kapoor have seen even earlier how Edwina worked on Mountbatten for Nehru, and for India. The two are shown looking through a peep hole at a scene in a bedroom shared, for a change, by Edwina and her husband. "He (Nehru) has to be prime minister, doesn't he," Mountbatten is saying to Edwina. "Yes," she replies, in the way that No is no option. "Not very dignified," the Ghost of Jinnah observes from outside the peep hole. Mountbatten is talking about a suggestion by Gandhi to appoint Jinnah as the first prime minister to keep India undivided. This conversation, hinting at some agreement with recent propositions that Mountbatten had a homosexual interest in Nehru, too goes into the making of history.
Edwina: "The country would never forgive you (if Jinnah became PM)."
Mountbatten: "You mean Jawaharlal Nehru would never forgive you."
Edwina: "Or you, and you couldn't live with that. It isn't only me, Dicky, you are in love with power, and Jawahar is the embodiment of it."
In the end Nehru, who strongly opposes the installation of Jinnah as prime minister, begins to rethink his position to avoid a partition. He is at a team table with Edwina and Mountbatten. Edwina stops him: "You must be prime minister of India. Giving away Pakistan is the only way...don't start wavering now." Mountbatten suggests he will bring the date for Partition forward by eight months. "Pakistan will have to scramble against itself, really." In so many ways, it was the three of them.
In seeking to answer Gandhi, Jinnah shows a quite different Gandhi from the Gandhi shown in Gandhi. The young Jinnah is shown watching satyagrahis from a balcony when he spots his wife Rati (Indira Verma of Kamasutra fame) and his daughter below. He pulls them away as the police begin to beat up the satyagrahis singing "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram". Rati begs Jinnah to stop the police. "They are beating helpless people," she says. "They offer themselves to be beaten," Jinnah replies. "Gandhi's politics. There is nothing I can do. They want these tamashas, this theatre." But in the end Jinnah stops the British police officer. "Roko," Jinnah says. That stops the officer. "Call the men back," the officer orders.Through the film nobody has a reply to Jinnah. He speaks. Silence, deference, obedience follow.
The Gandhi of this film (Sam Dastur, who played Gandhi in The Last Viceroy) is wily in his mind, wimpish in his speech, and throws dirty looks at Jinnah when Jinnah isn't looking. At an early meeting addressed by Jinnah, Gandhi speaks thus: "I weesh to laind my shupport to aivrything Mr Jinnah shays." When Gandhi proposes Jinnah as prime minister of an undivided India, Mountbatten asks what Jinnah would say if he knew Gandhi had proposed this. "He would say, wily, old Gandhi," says Gandhi. And that's exactly what Jinnah says. This Jinnah has 'seen through' this Gandhi. Something about Gandhi "makes me uneasy", the young Jinnah says.
He explains more to the Ghost of Jinnah that comes wandering into his garden. "A man who believes in his own mission, but closed," young Jinnah says to the Ghost. "This imitation of the Hindu peasant, the spinning wheels, the fast, the bits and pieces of Sanskrit philosophy, ahimsa, satyagraha," not what the smart young Jinnah wants. "If they succeed in kicking out the British because they have usurped power in India, will their attention then turn to the Muslims? After all, we Muslims conquered India long before the British." But isn't that logical, the Ghost of Jinnah asks. "We are not outsiders," young Jinnah replies. "We are a part of this country. Besides, we have no England to go back to." The Ghost, having drawn out young Jinnah's thoughts for the benefit of Kapoor, suddenly vanishes.
THE film has much of a fear of Hindu dominance running through it. Hindus are shown attacking peaceful Muslims. When the police come, Fatima says: "They have sent a Hindu policeman." All over India, Jinnah says, "Hindu officers have taken charge of the police forces". Come Partition, and Sikhs on horseback are shown butchering Muslim refugees, running spears through fleeing women. Jinnah is shown looking at a train full of bodies of Muslims that arrive from India. And then the film shows Muslim horsemen attacking a Sikh refugee camp and slaughtering everyone they see.
The non-Muslims of the film are killers, misguided satyagrahis or servants. A Sikh is shown dusting Mountbatten's jacket. The family servant of the Jinnah household is called Ram, the ayah Anita. The film takes on Jinnah's own marriage to a Parsi. But she is shown converting to Islam. That's less easy to tackle with the marriage of Jinnah's own daughter to a Parsi. "There are lots of young Muslim boys in India," Jinnah tells daughter Dina. "You cannot do this to me." But he had married a Parsi, she tells him.
Jinnah: "She became a Muslim. Is Mr Wadia prepared to embrace our faith?"
Dina: "No. But I will marry him."
Jinnah: "If you do this, you can no longer continue to call yourself my daughter. I forbid it."
Dina: "But, but why?"
Jinnah: "Because it hurts me, because it is against our customs, against our tradition. I have fought for a Muslim state, and my daughter marries outside the faith." They have a goodbye chat.
Dina: "Papa, we've come to say goodbye."
Jinnah: "I'm sorry you're not coming with us to Pakistan, but I understand. Mr Wadia, please look after her."
Dina: "I will visit you, Papa, but my home is now in Bombay. With my husband and child."
Jinnah: "Why, Dina? Why must we be divided like this?"
Dina: "People might want to ask you politicians the same question."
Jinnah: "Dina, there was no other way."
By now Shashi Kapoor has seen "just the facts" and he puts a last question to Jinnah. Would he do anything differently? "I'd do the same thing," Jinnah replies. "But ask others to behave differently." The film is now back in the waiting room where Kapoor decides who goes to Hell and who to Heaven. Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah are all in the waiting room. "Well, gentlemen, I must leave," Kapoor tells Gandhi and Nehru. "Jinnah Sahib, I'm afraid you're coming with me." To Gandhi and Nehru, he says: "Er...we'll meet again. Please say your goodbyes." Gandhi and Nehru (their ghosts, that is) instantly rise in deference to Jinnah. Nehru and Jinnah exchange a loaded handshake.
Kapoor is on the phone to God. "Yes, O yes, sir, we are ready. No, no, no, no. No trumpets, no brass bands. He won't like that. A word of advice. No houris, please he's a one-woman man." He then turns to Jinnah. "Mr Jinnah, you're being called. On your way, Jinnah sahib." A door opens up and a shimmering staircase awaits Jinnah. He ascends to Heaven.