Justice in the Hands of Al-Qaeda By Bhaichand Patel

in 10th Zanzibar International Film Festival

by Bhaichand Patel

Pakistani filmmaker Jamil Dehlavi’s Infinite Justice is a thriller that moves at a rapid pace between Karachi, New York and London following the fate of an American Jewish journalist who bears more than a passing resemblance to Daniel Pearl whose travails were the focus of another recent film, A Mighty Heart. Pearl was in Karachi in 2002 on the trail of Al-Qaeda when he was lured into an interview, kidnapped and killed.

Dehlavi’s film is made on a far more modest budget than the Hollywood film. Most of us would be unfamiliar with any of the actors. Kevin Collins plays the role of an American broadcast journalist, Arnold Silverman, who comes to Karachi tracking the financial network of those behind the 9/11 attacks. His is a personal cause. His sister was working in one of the World Trade Centre towers when it was destroyed and her body was never found.

Dehlavi, who also wrote Infinite Justice, parallels Silverman’s search with the politicization of Kamal Asad Khan, a young British Pakistani with a public school education. Kamal has been radicalised through the influence of an old school friend and a visit to Bosnia. He is sophisticated and amiable; a character in the film describes him, with some sarcasm, as “the human face of Muslim fundamentalism”. The role is finely played by Raza Jaffrey whom I last saw as the male lead in the West End production of the musical, Bombay Dreams.

Arnold and Kamal have a lot in common, coming from similar backgrounds. They meet in Karachi. By now Kamal has joined the fundamentalists and agrees to take Arnold to interview an Al Qaeda leader with disastrous, gory results. The American’s motives are suspected and he is held hostage in an effort to seek release of prisoners held by Americans in Guantanamo Bay. Kamal befriends Arnold in captivity and, despite his beliefs, is not above sneaking in a bottle of whisky.

While “Operation Enduring Freedom” is the official name used by the U.S. Government for its military response to the 9/11 attacks, the original name was “Operation Infinite Justice”. The change was made when Islamic clerics objected on the grounds that infinite justice can only be dispensed by God.

This is Dehlavi’s sixth feature film as director. Perhaps the best known of his earlier films is Jinnah, a historical epic on the founding of Pakistan. It was made in 1998 and starred Christopher Lee, Shashi Kapoor and James Fox. The film won several awards including the Grand Prize at the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

If there is any filmmaker who is completely out of sync with other filmmakers in his country it surely must be Dehlavi. His films are not remotely anything like the films that are churned out by the crumbling studios in “Lollywood”, a rather silly nickname for Pakistan’s film city, Lahore. Lahore was once an important and thriving film production centre, especially in the years before and soon after the creation of Pakistan. In recent years it has barely managed to survive. Pakistanis prefer to stay in the comfort of their homes and watch pirated DVDs of films from Bollywood, also known as Mumbai. They are available for rent within days of their theatrical release across the border.

Dehlavi’s background gives him away. His father was in Pakistan’s foreign service. He went to a posh British public school, Rugby, and read law at Oxford. A person of that background is unlikely to find himself in Lollywood. Dehlavi’s films are sophisticated, intelligent and technically flawless. They have more in common with the films of directors like Shyam Benegal and Mira Nair who operate from across the border in India.