FLASHBACK: THE JINNAH OF FILMS

Published December 25, 2022
Hollywood star Christopher Lee in and as Jinnah
Hollywood star Christopher Lee in and as Jinnah

The partition of British India was never acceptable to those in neighbouring India now. Following a bloody mass migration, it divided the Subcontinent into India and Pakistan a little over seven decades ago.

After reading about the treatment meted out to Muslims in India these days, one must commend Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, whose untiring efforts enabled Muslims to get a separate homeland for themselves. Such an example of constitutional struggle can rarely be found in modern history.

Sadly, one man’s hero is another man’s nemesis. Some of Jinnah’s depictions on the silver screen have been quite far from reality. Produced under India’s influence, Quaid-i-Azam’s portrayal often presented him as ‘biased’ and ‘arrogant’, be it in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) or Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House (2017), where lesser-known actors such as Alyquee Padamsee and Denzil Smith played the role of the Quaid.

In Pakistani movies produced since Independence, one has witnessed ‘good guys’ attired in high-buttoned sherwanis and Jinnah caps symbolising the Quaid and his teachings. The leading film star of the ’50s and ’60s, Santosh Kumar lip-synced to Salim Raza’s Aao bachon sair karayein in typical Jinnah attire for a song in the film Bedari.

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been featured in many international film projects but it was his portrayal in Jamil Dehalvi’s Jinnah that Pakistanis really connected with

Until then, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was never depicted as a lead in a Pakistani film. It may have been limitations or budget constraints that kept them from making such a film.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the father of the nation finally became the subject of a feature film, owing much to Jinnah’s impersonation in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). It can be considered one of the main reasons why Akbar S. Ahmed, a Pakistan-born anthropologist living in the US and Jamil Dehalvi, a London-based filmmaker, joined hands in 1996 for a biopic of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Not to forget, Gandhi the movie was a joint production between India and Great Britain. It not only won a couple of Academy Awards but also shot a then unknown Ben Kingsley to fame. Born to a Gujarati-speaking father, Kingsley (birth name Krishna Pandit Bhanji) adapted quite easily to Gandhi’s role, who also happened to hail from Gujarat.

Jinnah
Jinnah

To pick an actor who not only resembled Jinnah in appearance but could enact his emotions and pain, Hollywood Star Christopher Lee was selected. Lee, known for his roles in movies such as The Man with the Golden Gun, Lord of The Rings and Count Dracula, did a commendable job in the biographical film.

Lee was joined by veteran actors Shashi Kapoor (Angel), James Fox (Louis Mountbatten), Sam Dastor (Gandhi) Indira Varma (Ruttie Jinnah), Robert Ashby (Jawaharlal Nehru), Shireen Shah (Fatima Jinnah), Vaneeza Ahmad (Dina) and Maria Aitken (Edwina Mountbatten) in the cast.

The film begins with the ambulance breakdown on the last day of Jinnah’s life, depicting the significant events of his personal and political life. Jinnah the movie managed to win various awards including the gold at the Flagstaff Film Festival USA and the Special Jury Prize for Best Foreign Film in Worldfest Houston. Lee was also praised for his performance in reviews in The Sunday Times and Los Angeles Times, and himself considered the role as one of his best.

The film’s completion, like the creation of Pakistan, had its good, bad and ugly moments. The ‘ugly’ scene was created by the Pakistan press, which opposed Lee’s portrayal as Jinnah (owing to his earlier Dracula role) and objected to a ‘Hindu’ Shashi Kapoor playing the role of an angel.

Gandhi
Gandhi

The attack on Christopher Lee, by a certain section of the press, happened to be more personal than professional. The negative publicity turned things from bad to worse for the movie, as whatever funds the producers were getting from the government were withdrawn midway through the production.

As the English version was ready for release, Nadeem Mandviwalla of Mandviwalla Entertainment came up with the idea of dubbing the movie into Urdu. The only ‘good’ thing that happened to the film was the presence of like-minded professionals, who worked relentlessly to create a magic of their own.

Dubbing of English movies was usually done in India, but asking them to dub for ‘a man they would never forget’ would have killed the essence of the movie. The team composed of veteran voiceover artist Pervez Bashir, film distributor and broadcaster Saeed Shiraz and actor/producer Manzoor Qureshi managed to do the job to its utmost perfection.

Viceroy’s House
Viceroy’s House

Pervez and Saeed were aware of Manzoor Qureshi’s expertise in the field and knew that he had attended a short course concerning lip-sync-dialogue delivery, based on lip-sync-dialogue writing in Germany. Manzoor, himself a veteran, had worked with various teams in Bonn and Berlin and was quite clear as to what was needed. 

Paperwork began and the team was done with the translation in no time. Auditions were done for the roles, while several actors were dying to dub for the character of the ‘older’ Muhammad Ali Jinnah. After trying many seasoned campaigners, it was the veteran film and TV actor Ghulam Mohiuddin who bagged the part.

Ghulam Mohiuddin had years of experience of radio, TV and double-version films. The leading man of yesteryears charged a nominal amount for the work, as he still considers ‘dubbing for Baba-i-Qaum’ an honour. The entire Urdu dubbing was done in Director Saeed Rizvi’s studio, who had the experience of making feature films such as Shanee and Sar-kata Insaan, along with the most TV commercials in Pakistan.

Lady and Lord Mountbatten were dubbed by veterans Azra Mansoor and Shafiqur-Rehman respectively, while the legendary Pervez Bashir selected Nehru for himself. Senior voiceover artist Mujib Syed did dual roles, that of the ‘young’ Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi. Ayesha Saqib, daughter of veteran actor Saqib Shaikh, dubbed the dialogues for Fatima Jinnah while Manzoor Qureshi read the Urdu lines for Shashi Kapoor’s character.

The best thing was that, despite knowing the magnanimity of the project, it was the love for Jinnah that kept the Urdu version going. Jinnah, despite troubles in production, was released in theatres to a limited audience by the end of 1998. Opening to positive reviews, the Urdu dubbing was also appreciated.

The response from the viewers was a clear indication that, despite his passing away 50 years earlier, Jinnah still lived on in the hearts of many.

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 25th, 2022

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