Leghari and the making of ‘Jinnah’

Published: November 10, 2015
The writer is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University, Washington, DC. His recently released film is Journey into Europe and he is working on the book of the same title for Brookings Press as the fourth project of his 
award-winning quartet of studies examining relations between the West and the world of Islam

The writer is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University, Washington, DC. His recently released film is Journey into Europe and he is working on the book of the same title for Brookings Press as the fourth project of his award-winning quartet of studies examining relations between the West and the world of Islam

“Beware of the Indians and other enemies of Pakistan,” said Farooq Leghari, the president of Pakistan, looking at me straight in the eye. “They will do everything possible to destroy your project. They can’t stand Mr Jinnah and his achievement of creating Pakistan.”

Leghari was talking to me in a one-to-one conversation in his office in 1996. He had been my senior at Forman Christian College where we both played tennis in the college team. Later when I entered the civil service of Pakistan, which he had already joined, he maintained the affections of an elder brother. I called him Lala or elder brother. In this case, I had come to enlist his support for Jinnah, my film project on the life of the founder of Pakistan.

“Of course,” he said, “I will be there to fully support you and ensure no harm comes to you.” As a Baloch, he was a man of honour and true to his word. When I requested for what seemed an impossible request, the use of the magnificent presidential bodyguard for a scene in the film depicting Jinnah’s cavalcade as governor general, without hesitation he sent it down to Karachi. He wrote to all the ministers and governors asking that full cooperation be shown to me in my efforts. On my request, Leghari arranged a meeting at the presidential palace for Pakistan’s top 30 industrialists who made commitments for my budget in his presence. Unbeknownst to Leghari, my elation was only to be brought down with a thump when one of them, who had promised Rs3 million, was heard boasting to friends at the Marriott hotel after the meeting that he would follow his father’s footsteps who made similar promises of Rs1 million to President Ayub Khan after the floods in East Pakistan but did not pay a single rupee.

Three years later, when Leghari was no longer president, I showed him the Jinnah film at his home in Islamabad. He had aged. It seemed the weight of the world was on his shoulders. There were all kinds of wild and hateful accusations against him in the press. The two of us sat on a couch in his living room surrounded by his family. They saw the film with rapt attention. When it was over, Leghari stood up, his eyes glistening with tears. He embraced me and said, “You have done a great service to the Pakistani nation. I thank you on their behalf and on my own.”

“But I have a complaint against you Lala,” I said. He looked taken aback and puzzled.

“You warned me about the Indians and others. But you didn’t warn me about our beloved fellow Pakistanis. They almost destroyed me and my film with lies and malice. You should have warned me about our own people.”

Leghari threw his head back and laughed with the familiar carefree laughter that took me back three decades to the time we were together at college in Lahore. With a broad grin, he murmured, “Yes and look what they did to me.”

The idea of making a film on Mr Jinnah was the ambition of many Pakistanis especially after seeing Attenborough’s Oscar-winning film Gandhi which depicted Jinnah as a villainous caricature. Muslims also needed to answer the question so many were legitimately asking about the compatibility of Islam with democracy. Because I believed Jinnah was the quintessential modern Muslim democrat, his story would answer the question about Islam and democracy. His Pakistan was to be a modern democratic Muslim nation. I began working on a script for Jinnah when I arrived at Cambridge University in 1988 to take up the position of the Iqbal Chair.

Supported by family and friends, I spent the next decade producing books and films that would tackle two subjects — Islam and Jinnah. “Living Islam”, based on my book Discovering Islam, was broadcast at prime time as a six-part BBC television series which I hosted.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and I decided to work on the “Jinnah Quartet”: to make Jinnah, a feature film and Mr Jinnah: The making of Pakistan, a documentary based on archival material and rare interviews including that of Jinnah’s daughter Dina, to write Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity, an academic book, and commission and write a comic book on Jinnah. I set myself a deadline — 1997, the fiftieth anniversary year of Pakistan. Despite the huge challenges and obstacles, three of the Quartet were completed on time. The Jinnah feature film was ready by the following year.

Along with friends, we had set up a company called Quaid Project Limited to make the feature film. I was the managing director of the company and owned its single share. The other members of the board included such distinguished Pakistanis as Jamy Rahim and Amir Chinoy, well-known names in industry and finance, and the equally distinguished British statesmen Sir Julian Ridsdale, former MP, and Sir Oliver Forster, former High Commissioner to Pakistan. No one on the board was paid and it was often a thankless job, yet the support and loyalty of the directors never wavered and I will always be grateful to them.

Earlier projects to make films on Jinnah had faltered. People warned me that “Jinnah was jinxed”. Despite all the confidence people had in me, I was aware of the problems of working in Pakistan. I had described Pakistanis as living in a “dodge’m car culture” — not unlike the carnival game in which bumper cars slam into each other from every direction without warning.

There has been, typically, ad nauseam controversy about the Jinnah film and I have no intention of further feeding it. (For those interested in information on Jinnah and its making, please see Dare to Dream; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKmJFbWXuzc. For a report of the launch of Jinnah see The Independent, London: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/was-jinnah-a-saint-or-sinner-1184528.html. For a detailed audit report of the Jinnah film, see website link, http://pdfsr.com/pdf/jinnah-film-audit-report-1. For a detailed analysis of the Jinnah Quartet, see my book Islam under Siege, 2003).

Unfortunately little has been said of the many Pakistanis who supported Jinnah over the decade that I worked on it. It is my intention to correct the record and acknowledge some of them in this series and pay tribute to them.

I last saw Leghari at a hospital in Washington DC in the summer of 2006 where he had come for a major heart operation. He was not meeting anyone but was good enough to see me and spend time happily talking to me. I was saddened to see his condition. As I left him, I thought of the dashing tennis star at college and I could not stop my tears. He died not long after. I knew his unconditional support for Jinnah came from his fiercely patriotic understanding of and love for Pakistan. 

Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • SNKN
    Nov 10, 2015 - 11:55PM

    Akbar Sb., thank you for such an epic… People like you are true ambassadors of Pakistan and Islam… May Allah’s Amaan be on you…Recommend

  • JAS
    Nov 11, 2015 - 1:50AM

    Why did he roll BB’s government? Not that the government was good, but it did hurt democracy.Recommend

    Nov 11, 2015 - 3:19AM

    Dear Akbar sb,

    i saw the movie many times and it is an epic . Thank you Recommend

  • Alam Balochi
    Nov 11, 2015 - 3:21AM

    Dear Sir,

    Lets get the fact straight…

    Nobody Knows Mr. Jinnah outside Indian Subcontinent.He will never have a influence like what Gandhi or Mandela or Martin Luther King had….

    Ask anybody in west whether they knew who is Jinnah..and den ask about Gandhi or Mandela…u will get your answer…

    Even more people know khan abdul gaffar khan i.e. frontier gandhi for his nice and nobel gestures…Does anybody know what he said to gandhi????….the statement might hurt many???Recommend

  • Nov 11, 2015 - 7:40AM

    Perhaps Pakistan point of view Jinnah was a saviour. But after 70 years we deserve to look at creation of Pakistan in more academic way. Pakistan was an idea due to ego clash of leaders. It was not a movement. That is the reason we had so much of destruction and hatred. Over 1.5billion people live in eternal hatred, war… due to personalities. The tragedy is all those who caused the destruction are heros in our respective countries.!Recommend

  • pk
    Nov 11, 2015 - 7:55AM

    A secular, liberal leader will always remembered in history rather than a communal leader. Whatever high Mr. Jinah imagined of Modern Islamic democracy, essentially it ought to turn theocracy and with time it did. You can not make one religion supreme and dream of turning this theocracy in to democracy.Recommend

  • PrakashG
    Nov 11, 2015 - 9:03AM

    I kept looking in the article to see what, if anything, the Indians did to destroy the project of making ‘Jinnah’. Judging by the fact that I’d never even heard of the movie, I guess the Indians must have achieved their aim.Recommend

  • Humza
    Nov 11, 2015 - 9:19AM

    @Alam Balochi: Your statement does not hurt anyone because it is apparent that you are an Indian is disguise. Many in the West do know about Jinnah; Granted Gandhi is more well known and of course there are more Indians but Pakistanis speak of Jinnah in the same manner as Indians speak of Jinnah. A very moving tribute to Leghari by a an accomplished academic. Hats off to the both of them.Recommend

  • Tyggar
    Nov 11, 2015 - 9:47AM

    My sincere thanks to Jinnah for creating PakistanRecommend

  • Mozart
    Nov 11, 2015 - 12:18PM

    Thank you sir! The movie Jinnah is one of my prized collections. What a leader and what a gentleman Jinnah was. Here’s to one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen

    “You will have to make up for the
    smallness of your size by your courage
    and selfless devotion to duty, for it
    is not life that matters, but the
    courage, fortitude and determination
    you bring to it”. – Muhammad Ali Jinnah


  • Hammad Khan
    Nov 11, 2015 - 4:24PM

    Yes Mr.Leghari was known to be a very patriotic and honest president. One of a few like him become president.Recommend

  • vinsin
    Nov 11, 2015 - 4:39PM

    Jinnah was a pragmatic person and his demand for Pakistan was legitimate just like that of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma and Bhutan. There are two main issue with creation of Pakistan, one those who created are in India and second there are no minorities left even though Jinnah envisioned to have atleast 20% of people as follower of Indian Religions. Jinnah may or may not be a secular but he was certainly not liberal. His idea and theories had no impact on his own daughter.Recommend

  • Hari Om
    Nov 11, 2015 - 5:17PM

    President Leghari need not have worried about an Indian plot to nobble the movie “Jinnah”. The mediocrity of the subject and movie, as confirmed by the movie still remaining unrated by Rotten Tomatoes despite being released in 1998, was always a sure-fire guarantee that the movie “Jinnah” would commit a suicide martyrdom operation at the box office.Recommend

  • Romm
    Nov 11, 2015 - 6:54PM

    Simple reason was that BB connived with Zardari in corruption. She undid what Bhutto strived all his Life… independent/Sovereign Pakistan Recommend

  • Farhan
    Nov 11, 2015 - 9:23PM

    Sir Christopher Lee described it as ” the best thing I’ve ever done. And the greatest responsibility I’ve ever had as an actor ”

    @Hari Om:
    Not all great movies are box office hits. Far from it, most Oscar winning films are actually very obscure. Hope the Indians commenting can get out of their pettiness someday.Recommend

  • BAS
    Nov 12, 2015 - 1:48PM

    Wasn’t Jinnah, the movie made by Jamil Dehlavi?Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Nov 12, 2015 - 4:42PM


    It was basically a rights movement for Muslims of Subcontinent, and creation of new country, especially with the name Pakistan, was not its objective for most part of it. I would also disagree with the comment that “1.5 billion people live in eternal hatred”. This is, at least, not entirely true. But you are right that we need an academic discussion on this subject, because it is imperative that we put down this baggage of history, that has created only problems on both sides of the divide. Recommend

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