Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Christopher Lee's Jinnah- Dracula's dotage

What was Christopher Lee thinking? All he needed was a bit of walnut dye and some kohl round the eyes to put his stamp on the role of Jinnah. Lee was in his eighties when he played Sauron and Count Dooku- but he didn't look old, he didn't look feeble. This film manages to do that to him in keeping with its sedate pace and deeply suburban feel. There's a scene where Lady Mountbatten says 'The one thing Indians can't do is bake cakes. I must show the cook. Lady Wavell spoiled him.' The Viceroy's Palace had a staff of thousands. They had a dozen pastry chefs- Europeans, not Indians. But in this film this great heiress and aristocrat is depicted as some provincial Naval officer's wife who spends her time quarreling with the cook.
The considerable talents of James Fox and Shammi Kapoor too are wasted. 

Still, it is Christopher Lee to whom one's heart goes out. Had he been given a little more to work with he would have, not perhaps blown Ben Kingsley's Gandhi out of the water, but certainly given him a run for his money.

The director of the film- Jamil Dehlavi, auteur of the haunting and enigmatic Blood of Hussain- was the ideal choice to bring out the best in these great actors. It is noteworthy that Christopher Lee himself went out of his way to pronounce his belief in the film. But Dehlavi was saddled, by the Govt. of Pakistan, with the ex-bureaucrat and comic book author, Akbar Ahmed. This is what Dehlavi has to say about the great man

Q: Could you shed some light on the Jinnah controversy.
A: The first problem with the Jinnah project was that Akbar Ahmed‘s agenda was to promote himself. He should have behaved like the godfather of the project, surrounded himself with creative people and given them the credit they deserved instead of trying to steal the limelight.
The second problem was the controversy generated in the press, which resulted in the Pakistan government withdrawing their funding. Because of the shortfall in the budget, my company which was producing the film was obliged to complete the shoot to avoid the collapse of the film.
When we returned to England, Akbar refused to acknowledge the debts I had incurred on behalf of the production and wanted to offload me. This financial dispute was resolved when a group of American Pakistanis, spearheaded by Naseem Ashraf, agreed to finance the completion of the film and guaranteed to pay the money owed to me in instalments.
I then took the film to New York where I completed the editing. My last payment of 50,000 pounds was due on delivery of the film. This instalment was not paid by Akbar Ahmed and I began legal proceedings against his company in the High Court in England which cost me at least 60,000 pounds. I won the case, but Akbar Ahmed’s company went into liquidation and I was unable to recover any money.
Akbar Ahmed was appointed High Commissioner to London and began issuing statements through his press section that I was part of an Indian conspiracy. My reaction was to expose his fraudulent activities in the British press. A battle of words began between us, resulting in his being sacked as High Commissioner.
I then approached Naseem Ashraf who had guaranteed payment of the monies owed to me. Many promises were made by him and his colleagues, but to date I have not been paid. I was not only exploited by Akbar Ahmed, but also by the American Pakistanis.
Unfortunately, all those who controlled the film at various stages thought that they had become film producers overnight. As a result Jinnah never secured a proper international release and is sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust.

Keeping this background in mind, this film becomes more not less enigmatic.

There is an odd scene where Jinnah watches the destruction of the Babri Masjid along with Nehru and Gandhi. Jinnah says- 'I always thought British Raj would turn into Ram Raj.' The amphiboly here is either very crude and obvious or very very subtle because it is so crude and obvious. 

Or, should we view this film a foray into the theater of the absurd? Shammi Kapoor suddenly tells Jinnah that Mountbatten was suspected of being a Soviet spy and assassinated by the I.R.A. If there is some logical connection between these statements- it is a peculiarly Pakistani logic which ought to be funny but really isn't because it comes from a place of spreading paunched cynical complacency. 'Kiya sharam to foota karam'- For shame if you blush/ the miracle turns to mush.

Then there is a moment where Jinnah says he was guilty of the mess in Kashmir (by giving the Maharaja of Kashmir the option to join India) but that his guilt consisted in trusting Mountbatten and the British Army. This is mad. If he trusted the Brits so much why did he want them to leave?

If Dehlavi had been left alone to do the film, no doubt he'd have made a masterpiece.
The truth is Pakistan was born in blood, but blood drawn by a Dracula in his dotage. His dentures fell out and he himself got bit.
Those same dentures supplied General Zia's grin. Who knows? Perhaps, they are also the secret of Zardari's longevity.

1 comment:

Sanjay said...

That should be Shashi Kapoor, not Shammi.