Benazir Bhutto in Bollywood?

Rumours are buzzing around Bollywood of a possible film about Benazir Bhutto. Apparently, efforts were undertaken to make such a film back in the early ’80s by British-Pakistani playwright and author Tariq Ali, but due to tensions between Pakistan and India this did not happen. At that time, Benazir had just recently lost her father but was far from becoming the first-ever Muslim female Prime Minister.

However, recently the situation between the two countries has been very progressive, with celebrities crossing the border to work on the other side whether in films, television, or on stage. Of course, Bhutto’s recent tragic death has intensified the interest in her tragic and volatile life. Indian film actress and activist Shabana Azmi, a Muslim woman herself, has shown interest in playing the world famous politician. In fact, because of her impressive career and her friendship with Tariq Ali, it was she who was initially approached to play the role back in the ’80s.

Hollywood has always been notorious for biopics, and very often ones that come too soon. However, Bollywood has not been known for biopics at all. Very few come out of the industry. So having the main Indian film industry make a film about a Pakistani politician will be a new concept and is one to be cautious about.

Although Benazir’s life would make a fascinating film, at the moment such a film may come too soon. With the country still trying to deal with the aftermath of her death and asking questions about her murder, a film about her life, as complimentary as it would be, may not be welcomed as it should be. In the distraction of all the political turmoil in Pakistan, the film may not receive the attention it should to make the creation worthwhile. At the moment, the people of the country still require answers to the question of her death. Her life, as precious as it was to her party members, is over. And the reason it is over still needs to be discovered. Although there need not be a resolution before a film is made, (because indeed there may never be a resolution) time still needs to pass. How much? We must wait and see. The wounds need to heal.

With the execution of her father, the murders of both her brothers, the history of becoming Prime Minister of a Muslim country, and then her own assassination, it seems her life was made for a movie. Therefore, a film seems inevitable. However, when the film is made, it would be necessary to ensure that justice be done to Bhutto’s life. Regardless of what one may have thought of her, few would argue that Islam was central to the life, public indeed and private most likely, of Benazir Bhutto. Very importantly, her identity as a Muslim woman would have to be addressed as it played a pivotal role in her career. From the barriers she broke to those who hated her, Islam was front and centre in all her struggles. However, one does need to wonder what justice Bollywood, which usually portrays Muslims in extremely stereotypical ways, could do to this aspect of Bhutto’s identity. If they allow Tariq Ali to write the script, perhaps they will be able to address this central theme. Yet, it would require the expertise of a non-Bollywood writer to ensure that the film not fall into clichéd Bollywood representations of a Muslim woman.

However, in the end, if the film is made and made well, it would, I believe, be worth the wait. We’ll wait and see if this happens after all.

  • Melinda

    I love Shabana Azmi!As you point out, a film like this has great potential for failure. Let’s cross our fingers.