Christopher Lee, Shashi Kapoor, Maria Aitken, James Fox, and Indira Varma in Jinnah (1998)


(director/writer: Jamil Dehlavi; screenwriter: Akbar Ahmed; cinematographer: Nic Knowland; editors: Paul Hodgson/Bob Reitano; music: Nigel Clarke/Michael Csányi-Wills; cast: Christopher Lee (Mohammed Ali Jinnah), Shireen Shah(Fatima Jinnah), James Fox (Lord Richard Mountbatten), Maria Aitken (Edwina Mountbatten), Shashi Kapoor (The Guide/Narrator), Richard Lintern (Young Jinnah), Indira Varma ( Ruttie Jinnah), Robert Ashby (Jawaharlal Nehru), Sam Dastor (Mahatma Gandhi), Tulai Hussain (Refugee); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jamil Dehlavi; TCM (Dehlavi Films); 1998-UK/Pakistan)

“A compelling historical biopic on Mohammed Ali Jinnah.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Pakistani director Jamil Dehlavi (“Born of Fire”/” Blood of Hussain, The “) directs and co-writes (with Cambridge academic Akbar Ahmed) a compelling historical biopic on Mohammed Ali Jinnah (Christopher Lee), the founder of Pakistan. After WW2 Great Britain allowed for the independence of India in 1947. The Muslim lawyer politician Jinnah advocated for an independent country of Pakistan for the Muslim minority, while Gandhi (Sam Dastor) proposed as a compromise to keep India undivided by calling for the Muslim Jinnah to be the first prime minister of the new country. But Jinnah never thought that would work and refused the deal. Instead the Hindu leader, Nehru (Robert Ashby), takes the job. Lord Mountbatten (James Fox), the British viceroy of India, is the sly English representative arranging the historical changes in India. His wife Edwina (Maria Aitken) is the close friend of Nehru, who influences hubby to pull all the strings for him. Jinnah’s story is oddly chronicled through flashbacks (using a Scrooge conceit) after his death in 1948 from consumption. It takes place in the after-life, in modern times, as he tells his life story in a computer data library to a celestial scholar guide (Shashi Kapoor). Jinnah looks back at his youth, starting in 1916 Darjeeling; his political ambitions; his marriage to the Parsee beauty Ruttie (Indira Varma). who converted to Muslim; the lifetime help he received from his unmarried sister Fatima (Shireen Shah); his formative relationships with the movers of the day; the bloodshed over Pakistan’s fight for independence; and how it was through his stubborn insistence on independence at all costs that the country was born in 1947 as an independent nation for Muslims. Horror maven Christopher Lee gives a chilling performance, maybe his best ever. The well-researched political machinations should excite viewers who are political junkies. It pays a sincere tribute to Jinnah despite critics who blame him for the violence during the fight for Pakistan and the plight of the refugees. It merits being viewed by a wide audience, but in Pakistan the people initially protested that outsider Lee portrayed their national hero and distributors were scared away from releasing a film that deserved to be seen by a wide audience. When finally shown in Pakistan on DVD, the public mostly responded favorably to it. The film never played in theaters. It came out on DVD due to Lee’s influence, and remains a commercial flop though well-received by the critics.