The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 14, 1997 · Page 28
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 28

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Salina, Kansas
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Wednesday, May 14, 1997
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Page 28
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I WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 1997 APPLAUSE THE SALINA JOURNAL Cut Controversy plagues film tribute to Pakistan's founder By Si The Guardian ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — If ever there were a film dogged by demons, it is the biopic of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, whose makers must now come up with $1.6 million to finish their movie after the Islamabad government backed out of the film. The controversy started even before the British-based makers of "Jinnah," which purports to right a historic injustice done to the monocled barrister who founded Pakistan, began shooting in Karachi last month. First, there was embarrassment over the choice of Christopher Lee, best known for his roles in various Dracula movies, to play Jinnah. Then there were the Pakistani newspaper reports — never substantiated — that Salman Rushdie, whose "Satanic Verses" led to widespread rioting and deaths in Pakistan, had had a secret hand in the script. But the makers of "Jinnah" —Akbar Ahmed, a Pakistani fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and London's Petra Productions — are undaunted. Ahmed is curiously unmoved about the loss of the $1.6 million) — roughly one-third of its original budget — pledged by the Pakistani government, although his producer admits the film will be affected. Ahmed said he expects to have no trouble in raising the extra funds and in showing up those he accuses of plotting against the film from the beginning. "I am sorry to disappoint you, we are making a great, film,'" Ahmed said. "You can eat your heart out. It's going to be a great film and it's going to be shown all over the world."' He expects to finish shooting this month and to have the film in general release in August to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Pakistan's independence. The casting of Christopher Lee was only one of the production problems. Newspaper columnists were so vitriolic about the narrator, Shashi Kapoor, that the portly Indian actor — a Hindu — barricaded himself in a heavily guarded hotel room. An army major sued the filmmakers for defamation of Jinnah, and the case was thrown out only last week. Some people even objected to scenes of Jinnah coughing — although he died of tuberculosis just a year after the creation of Pakistan. There was also consternation at unsubstantiated newspaper reports that the movie character of Jinnah would be transported through time for friendly chats with Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat and the angel Gabriel. Shaken by the controversy and harboring its own reservations about the script, Pakistan's government began to wonder whether this was the best way of celebrating its golden jubilee. "To put up money for a feature film would not be terribly wise,'" said government minister Abida Hussein. "A feature film can not be viewed by everybody in an identical way. Jinnah is such an icon for all of us, we really don't want to controversialize him. Any attempt by filmmakers that may not be viewed favorably by absolutely everybody would rebound on the government." So, last week, the government said it was pulling out — although it is still extending non- financial support to the project. Mushahid Hussein, adviser to the government on information and culture, said: "This is a decision arrived at through a consensus at a meeting between myself and Akbar Ahmed, and we feel the decision is good for the movie's credibility. It is also our belief that governments should not be in the business of making movies." Hussein refused to be drawn on whether it would try to channel funds to the film in less overt ways — a charge that has already begun to surface in Pakistan. "Let's not get into that," he said. But the withdrawal of government funding is unlikely to make the controversy go away. 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