Controversy Surrounding the 'Jinnah' Movie Project
Jamil Dehlavi, London
Akbar S Ahmed, Pakistan's envoy to Britain, has been quoted as saying in an article appearing in the February18 edition of The News that he "is preparing to go to the fraud squad with counter-claims about Mr (Jamil) Dehlavi's handling of the accounts" of my film Jinnah. The article, which reproduced the investigations of the Guardian newspaper, made some inaccurate, illogical and even libellous allegations.
The fact is that I have already instituted legal proceedings against Mr Ahmed's company for monies he owes me, for not crediting me properly in the promotion and publicity of the film which I not only directed but produced and co-wrote, and for not submitting accounts for royalty payments due to me. Clearly I am unable to go into details about this matter since it is sub judice.
When the Guardian's investigative journalist Seamus Milne revealed that Farrukh Dhondy had co-written the script and that Mr Ahmed had not written a word of it, he should have put his hands up and admitted the truth: of course, the initial idea of making a film on Jinnah was Mr Ahmed's. I am not denying that. He told Mr Dhondy and me that he wanted to portray Jinnah as a liberal, even secular leader upholding the rights of minorities. True, he recommended that we read certain biographies. True. That he wrote one scene or one line of dialogue. False.
In the said article Mr Ahmed's accountant, Mohammed Ashraf, says that he has personal knowledge that Mr Ahmed wrote the script as he himself was present at a function in Selwyn College, Cambridge, in 1995 when Akbar Ahmed presented the 'third script' to his fellow company directors. What script is he talking about? Farrukh and I wrote the script in 1996. There was an earlier script by Guy Slater, which Akbar Ahmed himself scrapped when he approached Farrukh Dhondy. For creative and copyright reasons, Dhondy refused to even look at this former script. We started from scratch. Mr Ahmed read several drafts of our script which finally became the film. All these drafts still exist, with fixed dates, on Farrukh Dhondy's computer. Mr Ahmed does not have a single line scene on his.
Mr Ahmed does not deny that he took payment for script-writing for the simple reason that this transaction for £51,5000 to his offshore account in Jersey can and has been traced. He now tells The News that this was necessary "in order to protect his rights as co-writer failing which the other writer could demand the other half of the fee." What is this supposed to mean?
Mr Ahmed made Mr Dhondy promise he would not reveal the fact that he was involved in the writing and paid him a very much smaller sum in cash. For my role in the script I entered into a contract with Quaid Project Ltd and got a third of what Mr Ahmed received. Who then could claim what fee?
Further, there is the question of £70,000 which Mr Ahmed paid to his son, a student at the time, and to his son-in-law. Having discovered these payments, the Guardian journalist asked Mr Ahmed what these large sums were for. The good professor now claims that his son and son-in-law were fairly paid for work on the film.
Any member of the production team will confirm that these individuals had nothing to do with the production. It was after the completion of shooting that Mrs Ahmed wrote to my company asking us for £70,000 to be paid to Akbar Ahmed as his executive producer fee. They instructed the production office to transfer this amount to their personal account in Jersey. Her letter stated that her husband's invoice would follow. When the invoice did arrive there were two invoices from her son and son-in-law. The same sum was now to be shown in their names. Through this device the executive producer fee payable to Mr Ahmed is still outstanding and on his own admission he is now claiming it as a deferred payment for the film's profits before the investors get their money back. Even if, as he claims, Mr Ahmed took over £120,000 out of the film's funds only to put it back, he has extracted the project's money with his right hand and lent it to the project with his left, using the film's budget to buy shares in its profit.
Mr Ahmed states that with regard to the offshore Jersey account, all Pakistani legal regulations have been followed. Are Pakistani civil servants or high commissioners allowed to have offshore accounts? As far as the accounts of the film are concerned, they are undoubtedly a matter of public and official interest for Pakistan. Jinnah is not just another film; it is a national project subject to the highest standards.
Mr Ahmed's accountant Mr Ashraf claims that the accounts were audited by two independent firms of auditors--Brown, McLeod and Berrie and Baker Tilly. I would suggest that journalists should dig more deeply into the relation between Brown McLeod and Berrie and Mr Ashraf who appears to use that firm's name as his alter ego when it suits him. As for Baker Tilly, they are indeed a reputable firm of film auditors. However, they were not able to audit the accounts which could not be completed by the production accountant Peter Winstanley when funds ran out and he could no longer be paid. The fact remains that there has been no independent audit of this national project's accounts.
Mr Ashraf tells the paper that I am claiming "a small amount of money still owned to his company Petra which has gone into receivership." The amount I am claiming is £49,000, the residue for years of dedicated work. This may be a small amount for a rich accountant, but for an independent filmmaker like myself it's substantial. My company went into receivership because the Quaid Project did not honour a settlement agreement to pay back the credit I had obtained for the production when the Nawaz Sharif government reneged on its agreement to invest £1,000,000 in the film.
Mr Ashraf states that Quaid Project is making a counter-claim of £667,000 for recovery of monies overpaid and wrongly claimed by my company. Ludicrous. How could a reputable accountant like Mr Ashraf have allowed Quaid Project to overpay me almost a third of the budget?
The most childish and absurd reaction from Mr Ahmed in the face of perfectly legitimate and fair questions from the Guardian is that I am part of some "Indian lobby" determined to discredit him. The journalist's investigation is about money taken out of a film production. I am a Pakistani and proud of it. I welcome the anti-corruption, modernising manifesto of the present government. To be accused of being part of the "Indian lobby" by a supposedly responsible ambassador of our country is laughable. A high commissioner using this unthinking and short-signed response on what will be seen in Britain as a personal rather than a diplomatic matter can only bring our country into disrepute.
May I conclude by stating my view that the use of Farrukh Dhondy in the writing and of Shashi Kapoor and Indira Varma as actors as never seen by me as a weakness of the film, but as living proof that creative Indian artists were willing to participate in what must be seen as a national Pakistani project--one whose integrity it is important to defend. My film Jinnah speaks for itself.