It is indeed a heartening experience to watch a first of its kind experimental film about the life and history of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This film is unique in many aspects as it debunks various myths associated with the story of the British Raj, the genesis of the Commonwealth and the life of the man best known as the founder of Pakistan but whom this film shows to be much more than that.
The writer and director of this film is Khurram Ali Shafique, a historian and the only person to have won the prestigious Presidential Iqbal Award three times for his groundbreaking research about the life and times of Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal.
The film loosely follows the format of a gigantic vlog but incorporates elements from feature films and documentaries – employing some of the leading voice artists of the Pakistani media industry, pieces of Western classical music that were popular in the period it is portraying and some heartwarming montages to punctuate the narrative.
Relying completely on hard evidence for its narrative, it succeeds in showing the efforts Jinnah made at local, national and international levels to interpret the existence of the Muslims of British India, while at the same time participating in the genesis of the Commonwealth.
The narrative of this film rests on a ground rule: it presents the story of Jinnah from his own perspective. This means that it relies almost exclusively on the evidence he himself presented to the public in his lifetime.
It also means that the film does not try to ignore his bold claim that Gandhi and his associates were trying to prolong the British rule in India, so that they themselves could dominate the minorities – something they found easier to do with the help of the British bayonets rather than on their own.
The claims of Gandhi and his associates that they wanted the independence of India were nothing more than blackmail, according to Jinnah and some of the old guard of the Indian National Congress.
The fact that Jinnah made this allegation against Gandhi has been brushed under the carpet by almost every writer who wrote about him after his death – including Stanley Wolpert and Ayesha Jalal – and this film brings it back with the full force of the breathtaking argument Jinnah presented to support this allegation.
Thereby, it also succeeds in restoring the prestige of many non-Muslim thinkers and leaders who were household names in their lifetimes but have been ignored by historians long since – perhaps because the contributions of these personalities were incompatible with the worldview of Gandhi.
They include the Parsi merchant Dadabhai Naoroji, the Bengali visionaries Surendranath Banerjee and C R Das, and the American social scientist Mary Parker Follett.
Perhaps the greatest of all contributions this film endeavours to make is its attempt to restore the ideal of the Commonwealth the potency which it once had. Jinnah as seen here – and as he wanted to be seen – was a man who kept a close eye at the international politics.
He wanted India to become independent but also to retain the same bond of love and fellow-feeling with Great Britain which nations like Canada, Australia and New Zealand had (and still have). What he succeeded in doing was nothing less than laying down a solid foundation for this. This is the broader context in which the birth of Pakistan – the country founded by Jinnah – is placed by this film.
The film presents Jinnah not only as a leader but also a political thinker. In 1945, he promised his followers that he would win independence for India if they followed him unanimously for two years, and also that the Hindu leaders (deadly opposed to the partition of India) would agree to the partition within three months after the British agreed.
Both predictions came true exactly as he had said, and according to the timeline he had given.