PAKISTAN MAY BE the only nation on earth where Mohandas Gandhi is not regarded as a species of secular saint. The line echoed from the highest government officials down to the most junior journalist in Pakistan is that he was a convincing hypocrite and a consummate manipulator, a man determined to establish Hindu domination over India's Moslems after independence was secured.
Sir Richard Attenborough's multi-Oscar winning film is banned by Pakistan's military dictatorship. The worshipful treatment of Gandhi would be reason enough to prevent its screening everywhere from Khyber Pass to Karachi, but if an additional cause is needed, it is available. One of the film's minor villains is Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the father of Pakistan and the champion of Moslem rights in South Asia. If Gen. Reginald Dyer, the British commander at the Amritsar Massacre, is 10 on a scale of despicability in the movie, the Pakistanis feel Jinnah probably rates a seven or an eight.
Government censorship has not kept the nation entirely free from exposure. Pirated videocassettes are widely available in Pakistan, and "Gandhi" has been seen by a large segment of those able to afford VCR equipment in this impoverished land. Among the many who have attended living room showings of the film, there is a consensus on several matters. All maintain that the portrayal of Mohammed Ali Jinnah is insulting both to the memory of the man and to Pakistan. And most concur that the depiction of Gandhi is pure whitewash.
The degree of bitterness generated by the characterizations of the two leaders has driven expressions of outrage beyond the confines of teatime discussions and into the public domain. Speakers have been railing against the banned film, newspapers regularly denounce Sir Richard's creation in their columns, and the letters from readers in the major dailies contain more comment on "Gandhi" than on any other single subject.
Most of the vituperation poured on the director and his work results from the treatment of Jinnah. While great efforts were expended to make Ben Kingsley a veritable Gandhi clone, the obscure Indian actor chosen to play Jinnah barely resembles him. The leader of Moslem India was inordinately handsome. The many surviving photographs reveal delicately aquiline features, deep piercing eyes and an imposing profile. Richard Attenborough's Jinnah, played by Alyque Padamsee, is an ordinary-looking fellow, utterly lacking in intensity, arrogant rather than noble and sporting a facial scar that, according to one Pakistani viewer of the film, must have been the gratuitous contribution of a Delhi-trained makeup man.See GANDHI, L11, Col. 1 Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 1947 Gandhi GANDHI, From L1
More irritating to Pakistanis than the unflattering physical portrayal of their country's founder is his role in the film as an obstructionist, providing nothing constructive to the independence movement, and willing to cooperate even with the British to thwart the Hindus. There is genuine cause for rage over this. Jinnah did not become the champion of a separate Moslem nation until 1940, very late in his career. It was only then that his demands put him in opposition to the Congress Party's program for a united India. The disagreements with Gandhi in the film ignore Jinnah's unwavering commitment to independence and they obscure his magnificent contributions to the decades-long struggle for freedom from colonial domination.
The movie portrayal of Jinnah will probably strike European viewers even more negatively than it appears to Pakistanis. It is ironic that the very aspects of his appearance and bearing most often praised by his admiring countrymen are the very things that will create an unfavorable image for western audiences. Despite recent denunciations of all influences from the colonial past by the government, the press and the clergy, every Pakistani knows that his nation's founder cultivated the "English look." Moreover, Jinnah's impeccably tailored three-piece suits, his two-toned Oxfords, his monocle and his haughty demeanor attracted rather than repelled followers.
Sir Richard depicts these things accurately, but for moviegoers in the old colonial nations, they make Jinnah appear to be a fraud rather than a statesman. He is not projected as the aristocrat his partisans claim him to be. He is instead a caricature of English high culture. He speaks the language well enough and dresses like a gentleman, but he is not the genuine article. This is in vivid contrast to Gandhi, who early in his career abandoned the practice of aping the colonial masters and strove to be an Indian. American theater patrons will find Jinnah even less attractive than their European counterparts. In the United States, the wearing of a monocle is associated only with a small number of characters: Nazi generals, British aristocrats, pompous fools, Charlie McCarthy and now Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
Gandhi on more than one occasion declared himself to be a man of many faiths: Christian, Jew, Moslem and Hindu. Attenborough repeatedly emphasizes this, and in doing so makes Gandhi appear as a true citizen of the world to western audiences where an ecumenical spirit is considered a sign of wisdom and liberality. In Pakistan, Gandhi's religious universalism has the opposite effect. The current of Islam runs in a different direction. Diluting the message of Allah with infusions from other creeds or compromising the divine oneness smacks of polytheism. Gandhi's all-embracing faith, far from making him seem a leader for all mankind, only emphasizes his Hinduism for VCR-owning Moslems.
There is a general recognition among Pakistanis that the film is drama rather than history, and that distortions of the past should be expected. The complaint on this count is that all the alterations of fact not only glorify Gandhi, as would be expected in a film extolling his virtues, but that they also tend to denigrate Islam. In the Attenborough version, it is Gandhi who liberates India from the British. It is the Moslems who appear to instigate the religious rioting, and it is Jinnah who divides the Congress Party.
There are some in Pakistan who accept the film philosophically. They point out that if the Moslems look bad, the British come off looking far worse. While Jinnah has only a small role in the film, the same is true of Nehru and the other Hindu leaders of the movement for independence. They also add that the Moslem-Hindu violence Gandhi deplored continues to the present day in India, and, after all, it was a Hindu fanatic who assassinated the Mahatma. In Pakistan, some consider that poetic justice.