The documentary has gathered a lot of archival material that has never before been screened. Many of Benazir Bhutto's speeches and conversations have been retrieved, casting fresh light on the charismatic figure and her turbulent life.
Director Duane Baughman has woven the historical video and audio clips with interviews with many figures who either knew Benazir Bhutto, or offered their analyses of her life and times. The result is a film of considerable power and relevance.
For Pakistani audiences, there is probably little that is unexpected or new, except for some footage that has been retrieved from various archives. However, Western viewers unfamiliar with the drama and the tragedy that seems deeply embedded in the Bhutto DNA, can learn a lot about a divisive political dynasty as well as a deeply troubled era in an unstable country.
The film opens with a sequence showing BB's return from years of exile to Pakistan on Oct 18, 2007. Many of us saw the lethal suicide attacks that nearly succeeded in assassinating the former prime minister and slew around 150 of her supporters, wounding hundreds of others.
But to watch the episode again was to refresh the question so many asked at the time why was she not provided with far more security, given the many threats she faced? When asked this question in the film, then president Pervez Musharraf callously responds “She was given more security than was her due”, or words to this effect. This contrasts starkly with the findings of the UN commission that investigated the crime. According to its report, her security was woefully inadequate, and the investigation that followed was unprofessional to the point of being a cover-up.
The story then goes back to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's rise and fall. His judicial murder propels his daughter Benazir into the eye of the storm imprisoned and isolated, she finally escapes into exile from Zial-ul-Haq's harsh dictatorship. Then her dramatic return in 1986 to an adoring Pakistan, and after Zia's departure due to a fortuitous plane crash, she is elected in 1988, only to have her tenure cut short after a disastrous 20 months during which she was in office, but not in power.
As I said earlier, this is a story every Pakistani is familiar with, but even then, when the end comes on that fateful day in December, it has all the elements of a Greek tragedy. Writing in Maclean's, Brian D. Johnson has this take on the film“Imagine what Shakespeare could have done with Benazir Bhutto. In his world, her story might go something like this. A beloved king breaks tradition and decides his eldest child, not his eldest son, can inherit his throne. She is brilliant and beautiful. The king is toppled by a cruel despot, and hanged. His daughter is imprisoned. Her younger brother is found dead, presumed poisoned. She comes out of exile to win the hearts of her people and becomes their queen.
“The older bother rebels against her rule and is killed. His daughter accuses the queen and her husband of plotting his murder. The queen loses her throne. Her husband is jailed. And after eight years of exile in a desert kingdom, she comes home to vie for the throne, and is assassinated.”
There is no question that Benazir Bhutto's life and death carries deep resonance in the West where she is viewed as a brave, modern woman who broke the barriers of tradition and gender to become the Muslim world's first woman prime minister. And despite her deep belief in her faith, she moved easily between the two worlds, assuring her global audience that reconciliation was possible between the Islamic and Judeo-Christian civilisations.
Among the audience at the BAFTA auditorium were members of the Bhutto family, as well as a number of her friends. In scenes showing the violent deaths of her father, her brothers and her sister, Sanam Bhutto sobbed quietly in the seat ahead of mine. I can only imagine the effect of the movie on young Bilawal, who was in the front row.
In the discussion that followed the documentary, Mark Siegel was present in his capacity of producer, while Duane Baughman was there as the director. I found it odd that Baughman is far better known as a Democratic Party member than a film-maker he was a senior member of Hillary Clinton's election campaign team.
I have known Mark Siegel for 20 years, and apart from being a Washington lobbyist, he has been a close and devoted friend of Benazir Bhutto. Given his association with the project, it is hardly surprising that there should be so little critical evaluation of the subject of the film.
Although there were brief clips of Fatima Bhutto who expressed her old, totally unfounded accusations against her aunt and Asif Zardari of being behind her father Murtaza's murder, and John Burns of the New York Times on his investigative report of corruption allegations against BB and Zardari, these short critical interjections were glossed over.
I left the auditorium deeply moved. But while I liked and respected Benazir Bhutto as a human being, I retain enough of a sense of scepticism and objectivity to have seen her flaws. For this reason, I found the film oddly unsatisfying. It was Robbie who put his finger on the central problem. He said he had never seen such an openly one-sided exercise in propaganda. In fact, the film was almost hagiographic in its adulation of its subject.
The account of Benazir Bhutto being a modern democrat while retaining her traditional Muslim values smacked heavily of an official line. While she was all these things, there were many other aspects of her personality that should have been explored.
Certainly the allegations of corruption that dogged much of her life after being elected in 1988 needed to have been thoroughly discussed. The reality is that Zardari's nickname of Mr 10% has stuck to him, even though no allegation has been proved in any court. Nonetheless, this is hardly something a serious film can so easily overlook. I understand that in its release in Pakistan, even these brief critical clips have been removed, making the film even less balanced.
This is a great pity as Benazir Bhutto deserved better than a propaganda film to remember her by.
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