“Films nowadays are aimed at 18 year old Americans” ruefully declares Christopher Lee in the dying moments of the film's commentary and sadly, he's probably right. Retracing the life of a Muslim man is probably as close as you can come to a taboo topic in post eleventh of September America. While Buffalo Soldiers and The Quiet American suffered postponed releases, the fate of Jinnah has been far less enviable. Production was marred by vicious slander from parts of the Pakistani press – Salman Rushdie was alleged to be the writer of the script and the Christopher Lee's casting as Jinnah was not to everyone's taste, given his horror film background. The frantic kerfuffle that unfolded helped remove the film's funding several times but despite these numerous setbacks the film was finally made. Few countries however were ready to distribute the film and after bankruptcies and lawsuits took their toll, the film was pretty much guaranteed to never see the light of day. Six years after filming began, Jinnah is finally receiving a straight to DVD release in the UK mostly thanks to Lee's sheer belief in the film.
A DVD-only release is not usually a good sign (c.f. all of Stallone's recent output or Guy Richie's woeful Swept Away), nor is Lee's presence a guarantee of greatness - by his own admission, he's been in an awful lot of terrible films but Lee has long claimed Jinnah to be his finest moment as an actor.
The film opens in quite a surreal fashion: Jinnah (Christopher Lee) arrives at Karachi airport emaciated and at death's door, His soul is then whisked off to the after-life where he meets with a lawyer (the Indian actor, Shashi Kapoor) who has been assigned by the Almighty to defend his case. Computer viruses, like cockroaches, seem to be a universal problem since Jinnah's files have all been erased. With little time to spare, the lawyer and Jinnah take a trip through the important chapters of his life.
Though on paper this narrative device seems cringeworthy and clichéd, it works surprising well here. Given that Jinnah has never been an easy character to assess historically - as the film points out, many have blamed him (as Attenborough's Gandhi did) for the millions that died in the post-partition violence - the presence of the lawyer, questioning the dead Jinnah for the choices he made, helps the film acquire an analytical edge. At times it rules in favour of Jinnah, at other times it underlines the character's inconsistencies.
As for the performances, Lee is absolutely right – his acting is majestic and his resemblance to Jinnah is quite uncanny. He brings a levity to Jinnah's quest for an independent state as he confronts opposition from Mountbatten as well as from members of his own Muslim community, along with a rigid moralism that sees him refuse a wage when he takes charge of Pakistan. The supporting cast turn in some very good performances especially James Fox, who remains sadly underused in modern-day cinema, as Mountbatten. Though the film does at times seem to play to Pakistani nationalism, it thankfully retains sufficient objectivity to raise important issues about political responsibility, the balance of human life against political aims and the highly topical problem inter-religious violence - an issue that was ironically also central to The Wicker Man, another of Lee's cause célèbre. Though by no means a perfect film, it is quite easy to see why Lee feels passionately about Jinnah. Beyond his own outstanding performance, Jinnah is quite powerful and provides an interesting portrait of a man now little remembered in the West. Let's just hope it will find the audience it richly deserves.
The image is given an anamorphic transfer in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image is a little unusual with a certain lack of sharpness in most scenes, giving them a somewhat hazy appearance. However, I have been told that this was in part intentional to make the movie look more contemporary and to that extent it has succeeded as the film does not look as recent as the filming dates indicate.
The source material for the DVD was incredibly difficult to source given the legal wranglings that still surround the film so obviously the print has not received a deluxe Hollywood treatment and has had to be sourced from different prints. Some scenes also suffered from poor lighting and were difficult to enhance without creating edge enhancement. However, the DVD is according to Lee and the crew a huge step forward from the cinematic reels that were available. It is difficult to mark the image too harshly given the excellent work they have done (much of it by hand) with some very poor source materials. It doesn't look perfect by any stretch of the imagination but given the difficulties they have had to surmount to make it available, they have done very well indeed.
The film has been encoded in NTSC – a little unusual for a UK DVD but given that the release is not region coded, this makes perfect commercial sense.
We get a 5.1 mix which makes some good use of the stereo spectrum with occasional use of the surrounds mostly for sound effects. The dialogue tends to remain in the central speaker. The sound is clean and clear throughout with no noticeable problems.
Most of these are lodged on the second disc bar the commentary by Christopher Lee, Dr. Nasim Ashraf (executive producer), Mohammad Khokhar and Saeedullah Khan Paracha (both producers of the DVD). Lee tends to take the lead in most of the commenting, asking his co-commentators for input. It works quite well and they have more than enough to talk about to fill the film's running time. A decent amount of historical background is given (such as Jinnah's insistence on making his speeches in English despite the fact that many in his audience didn't speak it) as well as some interesting anecdotes from the filming.
On the second disc, we find a documentary on the making of the movie (44 mins.) which kicks off with short biography of Jinnah and then takes us through the film's harrowing production. Cast interviews and behind the scenes footage are peppered throughout making this quite a complete and entertaining documentary on the film's genesis.
A second feature (10 mins) on the aftermath of the filming is included - this is basically a statement from the producers (film and DVD) about how good the film is and why Jinnah is such an important character in history. There's little really new said here so you can probably skip it.
We also get a music video by Junoon can – the music is pretty good but my Urdu is non existent so I can't really comment on it.
The score itself receives a feature (23 mins) talking with Nigel Clarke and Michael Csanyi-Wills about their contributions to the film. It will be of most use to those interested in film scoring snapping between the musicians and the scenes they scored. Despite the slightly home movie feel to the production, it's a solid feature which could have maybe gained by being slightly shorter.
Finally, they have included an interview with a second generation Pakistani-American about her impression of the movie. (2 mins). A bit of a strange addition and not one I'd watch more than once.
Generally, the extras are a bit too numerous and lack a certain amount of coherence but most add a good background to the film and are well worth browsing through. The commentary and the documentary stand out as the most worthwhile extras to browse through.
Jinnah may not be a masterpiece but is a very good film that has been marred by the most unfortunate events. With a very good cast performing to their best, most of the film's flaws are overcome through their conviction.
The DVD is available solely from www.jinnahmovie.com.