DirectorJamil Dehlavi
StarringChristopher Lee
James Fox
Maria Aitken
Shashi Kapoor
Richard Lintern
Running Time110 mins

Christopher Lee
I am sure that most Western moviegoers are aware of the Richard Attenborough film 'Gandhi', however I am not so sure that many know of this film on Gandhi's Muslim contemporary Jinnah. Cinematographically, the film is not quite in the same league as Attenborough's film and yet it is an intriguing and valuable movie in its own right. It is certainly a lot more sympathetic to the Muslim leader than is found in most other depictions of him.

The key to the biographical nature of this film, and the contrast with Gandhi, is that Jinnah fought for the creation of Pakistan entirely through legal and constitutional means. He did not even advocate the 'civil disobedience' tactic so favoured by Gandhi. It is no mean feat to achieve the creation of any nation state by the rules created by others. This is a subtle message but the one that is hinted at throughout the film and the real backbone of the message of the film. It is an intriguing thought and one wonders if it would have worked by itself and whether it could afford to piggyback off of Gandhi's tactics or not.

Christopher Lee's depiction of Jinnah is simply masterful. It may seem odd to have an Englishman playing a Pakistani, but just a few minutes of watching Lee at work will dispel any reservations anyone could possibly have about this casting decision. Indeed, the film seems to have an unusually full list of actors playing across religious, cultural and racial borders with few if any problems.

The film's premise is about Jinnah being in a kind of purgatory as a case is made to decide if Jinnah deserves to go to heaven or to hell. In many ways, this is a good way of engaging and recognising that many were upset and angry about Jinnah's success in the creation of Pakistan and hence the division of India. Of course, the film comes down heavily on Jinnah doing the right thing in defending the Muslim minority from the Hindu majority. The hagiographic representation is restrained but there all the same. The 'trial' also allows the film to return to that theme of working within the law and constitution. Jinnah is portrayed as the barrister defending his record and the creation of Pakistan using the British legal system as the stage.

The one real weakness of the film is the portrayal of Lady Mountbatten. The Lady Mountbatten and Nehru bedroom scene is perhaps taking a few too many liberties. Lady Mountbatten probably had certain feelings for Nehru but it was more akin of a school girl crush than anything more serious - sharing a bedroom was pushing that relationship a step too far. Interestingly, Jinnah is portrayed as being 'too principled' to take advantage of such an affair in any case.

The film could not hide from the chaos, disruption and death that resulted from the huge population shifts caused by the creation of Pakistan. Muslims are certainly portrayed as victims, but to the film's credit it also shows Muslims attacking Sikhs and Hindus too. Disappointment over land apportionments and the state of Kashmir in particular is given prominence but the even-handedness here is still impressive and helps build a more convincing case for its protagonist.

Jinnah is a fascinating and an important character in the end of Empire saga. Was he a stubborn man or a determined one? Was he a man of vision or a man who lacked one? His role is certainly a cause for debate and this film adds an interesting and important perspective that adds to that debate. It will not give you the full picture but it will perhaps help give you a fuller one.

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by Stephen Luscombe