July 05, 2020
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The New, Improved Jinnah

A Pakistani film-maker rubbishes Nehru and villainises Mountbatten to retrieve Jinnah's heroism

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The New, Improved Jinnah
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IT'S literally history viewed from the other side. With the dramatic licence to re-portray events. Thus, the best Jawaharlal Nehru can be said to have done for India was to sleep with Edwina Mountbatten, wife of the last Viceroy. This will be a view of Nehru in the new film Jinnah , a Pakistani review of 1947 intended to "correct" the "disgraceful" view of Jinnah in the film Gandhi .

 "You see, it (the affair with Edwina) gave Nehru an access to Mountbatten that Jinnah never had," says Akbar Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar at Cambridge who is setting the political line of the film. "It compromises the neutrality of the Viceroy whose job it is to be neutral in the division of India." And that lack of neutrality gave India Kashmir, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur.

Jeremy Irons has been invited to play the de-villainised Jinnah and Vanessa Red-grave has been signed on to play wife Fatima, raising the hackles of non-white actors. Naseeruddin Shah has been offered the role of Gandhi, whittled down to the nearly 'guest appearance' status that Jinnah was accorded in Alyque Padamsee's portrayal in Gandhi . And Roshan Seth could do an encore as Nehru, this time as the supposedly great practitioner of bedroom diplomacy.

This is the big Pakistani show to create a new understanding of Jinnah, and the producers are making it as glitzy and starry as they can. The distributors of Bandit Queen will try to get the message across as emphatically as Richard Attenborough's epic.

The film won't show Nehru and Edwina in bed. "It is not a blue film," says Ahmed. "We're not interested in sleaze, just history as it was in 1947." But with director Jameel Dehlvi (who made The Immaculate Conception , a Shabana Azmi-starrer that dealt with eunuchs and didn't exactly flinch from showing flesh) the producers are working out shots to suggest that it was plain sex that helped give a historical advantage.

The question remains for Edwina and Nehru: did they or didn't they? Ahmed quotes M.J. Akbar to say they were lovers; he also talks of Russi Mody saying he once saw Nehru and Edwina in a clinch. The film will show they 'did', even if it doesn't show them 'doing'.

The bedroom view of Nehru is there to show how unfairly Jinnah, and Pakistan, lost out. It's a view that might win Nehru some base admiration in India. Because, by this view, Jinnah couldn't win Kashmir by going to war, but Nehru did by going to bed. But a new understanding? There's much here that might do the opposite.

Akbar Ahmed, the film's executive producer, was joined by other Pakistanis at a conversation about the film at a golf course owned by a Pakistani near Cambridge. Among the guests was Ghous Bux Khan Mahar, speaker of the Sindh Assembly who had much to say about Hindus and what a good thing it was that Pakistan broke away. It didn't sound much like a group out to build bridges.

Indian audiences are almost primary target for the 110-minute feature film. Ahmed is also producing a 90-minute documentary "which we hope audiences in India will get a chance to see". The producers have found substantial new money for both. The documentary will interview Benazir Bhutto extensively. "She and her father were great admirers of Jinnah," Ahmed points out. It might also show why the package is being made at all. In a Pakistani film on Jinnah, the Pakistani Government can't be far behind the cameras.

But to gather credibility with Indian audiences, the documentary will feature Indian names and faces. "You've got some very eminent Indians in there,"

Ahmed says. M.J. Akbar and Arun Shourie, he feels, have contributed to a "demonology" around Jinnah in India, but writers like Rajmohan Gandhi and H.M. Seervai "offer a glimmer of hope". Seervai, says Ahmed, "clearly demonstrates how Mountbatten constantly broke all moral codes, all principles in 1947. He blames Mountbatten completely, and secondly he blames Nehru. In his book, the man who emerges is Jinnah. So you have serious Indian scholars of that calibre capable of reassessing history". The documentary will invoke Seervai and feature interviews with Rajmohan Gandhi, Ashis Nandy and Prof Bhiku Parekh.

Gandhi will become almost incidental in Jinnah . "I wanted more of Gandhi, but there's just not enough space," says Ahmed. The rationale: the film is set in the summer of 1947, by which time "Gandhi has faded out". "There will be two or three places where he comes in. He obviously has a position, he doesn't want Partition." Ahmed says he is taking the "hig her moral ground" by not making a caricature of Gandhi as the Attenborough film did with the "disgraceful" portrayal of Jinnah.

And so, Gandhi hardly features. When he does, it is to tell Nehru not to underestimate Jinnah. Patel is not in the film at all. "There is a hero and a villain and the film is a clash between the two," Ahmed says. "This dramatic clash is between Jinnah and Mountbatten." In any case, Ahmed says, "you can't have too many sub-plots going on at the same time, it's got to be about two main characters."

Mountbatten, easily, becomes prime candidate for villainhood. "There is no authority with the Congress; it's Mountbatten who represents authority." That too, not fair authority. "His aim really is to frustrate Jinnah, to stop him or delay him." The clash is built over three or four issues. Kashmir, inevitably, is one of them. "Pakistan had the most strong case for Kashmir," Ahmed says. "A case legally, ethnically, religiously...and it was contiguous. By all laws of logic, it was assumed Kashmir would go to Pakistan." It's one of the hurdles "where Mountbatten plays a role in fudging the issue".

This fudging becomes "one of the problems thrown at Jinnah. In the middle of creating a nation for him, his main state, for which you had to have a plebiscite, where you had to give the people an opportunity to decide, that opportunity is not given, it was just pushed into a kind of limbo". The result, says Ahmed, is: Kashmiris are "being treated in the most disgraceful manner". 

"We're just trying to project history," he stresses. "Mountbatten, who should have been a neutral Viceroy, compromised himself very seriously, he was very involved in trying to push Kashmir into the Indian Union." Again Nehru's little role kicks off the big plot. "We know why. Mountbatten was very close to Nehru, Nehru is from Kashmir, and Nehru had convinced Edwina that Kashmir must be India's. So Edwina used her considerable authority and influence to propagate this point of view." Thereby hangs the tale.

Expected logic would have lost Kashmir for Nehru and for India, but the film does not ask why Mountbatten reacted to this as he did. Access was everything. "Nehru is completely involved emotionally with Kashmir. Because of that, Mountbatten takes a position. Because of that, you have a problem." Ahmed's direct cause-and-effect logic may not straightaway find place in history books, but his mission is precisely to emphasise 'lesser-explored' facets of history.

The issue of governor-generalship after Partition provides another flashpoint. Mount-batten, it would seem from the film, was desperate to be governor-general of Pakistan too. Jinnah refused. "The decision was absolutely correct. This is the culmination of a Muslim movement that began with Sir Syed and Iqbal. To get independence and hand it over to Mountbatten didn't make sense." But India accepted him as governor-general. Again, Ahmed says "we know why".

THE fate of Kashmir, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur were being decided at that time.

"We'd put up Pakistani flags in Gurdaspur and then were told the decision had been changed overnight," said a Pakistani businessman over lunch at the golf course. The Sindh speaker was more emphatic. If all had been fair, "all of Punjab would have come to Pakistan and Delhi could have been the joint capital", says he.

That all this did not happen is because of Mountbatten's villainy in the film. Ahmed says he found evidence of it in a conversation with Christopher Beaumont, secretary to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who drew the boundary between India and Pakistan. Beaumont's story, retold by Ahmed, is as follows: One night an aide of Mountbatten came to invite Sir Cyril to lunch. Beaumont asks when "we" should come. The aide tells a surprised Beaumont that he should not come, that Sir Cyril should come alone. At the time Ferozepur had been given to Pakistan. After returning from lunch, Sir Cyril says the Ferozepur boundary must change, it must go to India. 

"Now whatever reasons Mountbatten gave to Sir Cyril, this is what happened," Ahmed says. With Ferozepur, India kept the huge military arsenal there. And behind the villainy of Mountbatten is Nehru—rarely seen but always there.

But Mountbatten here is a little more complicated than a Bollywood villain. "For the credibility of the script, we don't want to caricaturise him; after all, he has his own way of looking at the world." So, to give him complexity, the film looks at him in other dimensions too. "He was from England, a very vain, very ambitious man...young, dashing and a cousin of the royalty," Ahmed says. "His interest is not so much India, his eye is on the big prize in England. He wants to be the deputy commander-in-chief of the Navy, and the future prime minister of England. And he doesn't have much time." The 'rounding' of Mountbattten is complete.

Of course, Jinnah triumphs. "The achievement of Pakistan is Jinnah's aim. It's like Gary Cooper in High Noon . Four people are trying to stop him but in the end he gets there. As in High Noon , there's a time limit. We know Jinnah doesn't have long to live. If he doesn't achieve it, there's no Pakistan." 

Jinnah doesn't win on Kashmir or Ferozepur or Gurdaspur, or on the division of assets like the Army. But his great gain is Pakistan itself. The denouement leads up to the carving out of the newstate. In the end, "he flies off to Karachi, the great achievement of a whole movement". The film puffs up Jinnah anecdotally. In one shot, a member of an audience at a meeting Jinnah is addressing shouts: "Are you Shia or Sunni?" Jin-nah replies: "Tell me what the Prophet was." In a clash with Mountbatten, the Viceroy says he represents the King Emperor. Jinnah replies: "You may, but I represent 100 million Muslims—and their security and demands must be met. " 

Through the events of 1947, the film moves in flashbacks to Jinnah's past, particularly in Bombay. "We show the society that existed in Bombay," Ahmed says. "Bombay used to be a genuinely tolerant, sophisticated and cultured city, it was one of the great cities of the world.

Bombay ki bhi badi tragedy hai na ...from that Bombay to what you have today, Bal Thackeray and all." But Ahmed hopes to be a guest in Thackeray's state where he wants to film at Jinnah's old house. "We hope he'll be in a reasonably hospitable mood," Ahmed says. "Now it has become, what, Mumbai? What was the problem?" Ahmed is also looking for permission to shoot in Delhi, Lucknow and other places Jinnah visited, "and we hope we'll get Indian permission to do so".

The Sindh speaker talks of Ayodhya as evidence that "Gandhi was wrong and Jinnah was right". The film will say this a little indirectly. As Ahmed says, in polite academese: "Jinnah's two-nation theory is coming alive in terms of practical examples being provided in the 1990s." A Pakistani view of Jinnah, Nehru, Ayodhya, Kashmir, of what Bombay was—for all that, some bridges may never be built.

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