‘The film is important for understanding the India-Pakistan relationship today as well as the modernist interpretation of Islam that Jinnah envisioned for his country — based on democracy and respect for fundamental rights of citizens’
By AKBAR AHMED — Three decades ago, when I began the Jinnah Quartet, which came to consist of the feature film, Jinnah (1998), starring Christopher Lee; the documentary, Mr. Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan (1997); the graphic novel, The Quaid: Jinnah and the Story of Pakistan (1997); and the biographical study, Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (1997), I could not imagine that, one day, the feature film would be shown on Turner Classic Movies, one of the premier film networks in the US, nor could I conceive the documentary becoming the star attraction of a number of high profile Muslim-American and Pakistani-American ceremonies.
Yet, this very week, the 20th anniversary re-release of the documentary, launched on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Pakistan, had a befitting welcome at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington in a special showing on the occasion of Pakistan Day hosted by Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. The audience in the Embassy’s beautiful auditorium was visibly appreciative. Many of them had no idea of the background and details of the Quaid-i-Azam’s life, struggles, and sacrifices. Both before and after the showing, the Ambassador,known as a scholar-diplomat, expressed his warm appreciation of my work. Within an hour of leaving the Embassy, I received the following message from the Ambassador, exhibiting old world courtesy: “Thank you Sir for doing so much for our country and enabling us to remember how great the founder of the country was. Proud of you. Hope to work with you in many more events.”
The film also had a successful reception at the annual ISNA Film Festival in Chicago last month. My brilliant friend, Saeed Khan, a professor at Wayne State University, and a relative of the late great S.S. Pirzada who features in the film, hosted the showing . The Pakistan Consul General of Chicago, Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, graced the function as its Chief Guest.The film drew an eager and attentive audience even in the middle of an American holiday weekend. Khan texted me straight after the showing to say that it was an “Excellent program” and added, “Great questions and the consul general gave very warm remarks…crowd very appreciative of your contributions to edifying the Pakistan narrative.”
What makes this re-release so special though is not just that the film has reemerged twenty years later and that it is being featured and celebrated on the occasion of Pakistan’s 70th Anniversary, but that it begins with reflective introductions by my daughter, Nafees Ahmed, and my research associate, Frankie Martin.
Nafees strikes a nerve with Pakistanis young and old in her commentary that, “I was lucky enough to play Dina, Jinnah’s daughter, in the Jinnah film, when I was 7 years old. And I didn’t quite realize at the time how incredible of a feat it was. But many years later at university, Pakistani and Pakistani-American students would come up to me, so excited that my father had created the Jinnah film. And I was even more proud because I had seen how my father and mother had overcome such immense challenges to complete the Jinnah film and documentary, which you’re about to see.”
She also reflected how, “Jinnah gives me and students everywhere a role model, someone with integrity and honesty, someone who was proud of his culture, but also adapted to the best of Western culture, and who fought relentlessly for women and minority rights.”
Frankie, meanwhile, noted from a scholarly perspective the film’s important legacy, as a young American no less: “The film presents a unique perspective on Jinnah the man and the country he created and features interviews with people who either knew Jinnah or were his contemporaries. The film is important for understanding the India-Pakistan relationship today as well as the modernist interpretation of Islam that Jinnah envisioned for his country, with democracy and full respect for women’s rights, minority rights, and human rights.”
The responses I have received to the re-release of this documentary reveal why it was so important that the effort be undertaken, as the deep, global affection Pakistanis feel for the Quaid persists with fervor.
Akhtar Faruqui, the distinguished chief editor of the Pakistan Link newspaper in California, wrote to me after seeing it, “I sat almost spell-bound as I watched your documentary last Sunday. It was a most instructive experience. The candor and revealing views of the main actors of the critical period dispel the cobwebs that often plague the mind of a student of history. The documentary’s message is profound and explains the decisions the Quaid took during the defining period. Both your daughter and student spoke with becoming sobriety. Anyone who watches the documentary can’t help feeling that he/she owes you a debt of gratitude.”
Dr Riaz Haider, a prominent Pakistani physician in DC, noted, “It is a must-see for all in Pakistan, especially the younger generation. It is also a must see for the Pakistani diaspora abroad.Thanks for your great and continuing work.”
Meanwhile, Bashy Quraishy, a Pakistani community leader in Denmark, wrote, “The new documentary made me cry. I simply get so emotional just looking at Quaid without whom, we would be nothing. Thank you for this work you did and are doing.” The Quaid would be proud knowing that the love and affection for his work and message live on 70 years later and are acknowledged across the world.
The writer is an author, poet, filmmaker, playwright, and is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington, DC. He formerly served as the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland.