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Pak govt halts funds for Jinnah film

Suparn Verma in Bombay

So it's a no! The Pakistan government will not allow the state-owned Pakistan television to fund, any longer, the film being made by Professor Akbar Ahmed on Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

The film ran into hot water when Ahmed picked Christopher Lee, of Dracula fame, to play the role of Jinnah. To make matters worse, the script of the film received its share of brickbats, with Imran Aslam, editor of The News, accusing the author of writing it in a "haze of hashish."

The beleaguered Professor Ahmed permitted the minister of cultural affairs to scrutinise the script, and received an all-clear. However, the Pakistan government's decision to stop funding the film has caused its producers to begin looking for outside finance. And this, in turn, has fuelled fresh controversy, with local newspapers alleging that Indian movie star Shashi Kapoor, who plays Archangel Gabriel in the film, is funding it to the tune of $ 1 million.

"I would like to clarify that Shashi Kapoor is NOT funding the film," says Professor Ahmed, just back from a shooting stint in Lahore. "Such rumours have been floating around for a while, but even Shashi Kapoor himself has gone on record denying them."

He says that the curtailment of funds from PTV, thanks to the government fiat, has not hampered the shooting. "We are going on as planned, in fact we have been shooting continuously for almost two months and have just three days shooting time left in Palistan before we go to England to finish the shooting. The controversy surrounding our project has been deliberately raised by a section of the media here, but we are not letting that affect us," the professor told Rediff On The NeT, in a telephone interview.

He is thrilled that while a crusade of sorts has been mounted against his film by the media, no less than Jinnah's grand nephew, Liaquat Merchant, has joined hands with other members of the family to help raise funds for the project. Two fund-raising functions have already been organised, and the biggest one, to be attended by 250 members of the elite of Pakistani society, is slated for Tuesday, May 6.

Not, mind, that it is all smooth sailing. The cash crunch consequent on withdrawal of official funding has meant, says Professor Ahmed, that they have been forced to chop some of the more ambitious scenes planned. What is interesting, however, is his revelation that while the government has withdrawn funding, it is permitting the use of official locales for shooting, and co-operating with the film unit in every other way.

Jamshed Rahim, who heads Quaid Project Ltd, for his part says the scenes that are being axed are peripheral, and not integral to the core of the film itself. "I do not think the cuts will not affect the final look and feel of the film.," he says.

Talking of the progress of fund-raising efforts, Rahim says, "When the government turned off the taps we were about Rs 10 million short -- now we have more or less made up that amount, there is just a short way to go yet."

Interestingly, Professor Ahmed has not approached Jinnah's grandson, Indian tycoon Nusli Wadia for financial -- or any other form of -- assistance. "Mr Nusli Wadia is an Indian, it is not wise to involve him in this and expose him to needless controversy," argues Rahim.

Merchant for his part has no such qualms. "I am helping Professor Ahmed because he is a friend of mine of many years standing. Besides, I have a personal interest -- the film is on Mr Jinnah, to whom I am closely related, and I would like to do everything possible to ensure that his image is projected in a positive, constructive fashion all over the world."

Shashi Kapoor, meanwhile, spent three days in Pakistan recently as the personal guest of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief. After a couple of days spent in the prime ministerial bungalow at Islamabad, Sharief accompanied Kapoor to Peshawar, to show the Indian star the house where he had been born.

Meanwhile, the race against time is on as the film-makers struggle to finish the project to coincide with the celebration of 50 years of Pakistan's Independence.

"Inshallah," says Professor Ahmed, "the film should release on time."

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