Thursday, February 14, 2008
For whatever it is worth, here is Allen Hafman's review.
A film with the President’s son—a review of “A dinner with the President”
“A dinner with the President: a nation's journey” is a timely documentary film released in a charged atmosphere when nearly all have ganged up on President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. The movie is an attempt to show the humane part of Musharraf, for example, as a son who at a dinner table listens amusedly to his mother talking about how worried she was of his future when as a child Musharraf would not do too well in school; the film tries to show the world that Musharraf still enjoys popularity among certain people (though one can argue that that part of the film was shot before Musharraf imposed Martial Law, in November 2007). But whereas the film leaves a favorable impression of Pervez Musharraf, with the director’s easy access to the General--a total of four encounters in the film--and missing shoots of hard-core critics of the present regime, the pic looks more like a propaganda movie.
“A dinner with the President” is an expository film. Director Sabiha Sumar embarks on a journey to understand what true democracy would mean for Pakistan. But the film quickly forgets its purpose and becomes a reconnaissance mission for Pervez Musharraf. Sabiha Sumar is interviewing people on the streets and then filling in Musharraf on her findings.
The viewer does not have to go too far in the movie to discover the director’s narcissist tendencies. She HAS to be there in every other scene. If an important TV newsreel has to be shown, the shoot of the TV set has to be past her earlobe. There are other irrelevant characters too in the movie. We frequently see a middle-aged man accompanying the director—one would guess he is director’s husband. If that is true then the question is, why not other family members: aunts, uncles, cousins, and all?
The film has English subtitles whenever the conversation is carried out in Urdu. The quality of translation is generally good save for a few misinterpretations here and there. [For example, when a man calls the director an ‘azad musalman’, it is translated as a 'free Muslim' whereas, in the context that term was used, a more appropriate translation would have been 'carefree Muslim.']
For foreign audience “A dinner with the President” might prove to be somewhat informative, but the film does not add much to the knowledge bank of the Pakistanis--except to reassure them that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain is indeed as non-coherent as everybody believes him to be.
Why the title ‘A film with the President’s son’? Because when “A dinner with the President” was screened at Stanford University on February 12, Bilal Musharraf, a Stanford alumnus, was in the audience and at the end of the film, on organizer’s request, came on to the stage and expressed his views about the film and carried on to answer questions about his father’s government. This soft-spoken 6’-2” tall 35-year old is a natural speaker, even when he categorizes himself an introvert. And therein lies the irony. Whereas Musharraf’s critics would paint Musharraf as a cruel, power-hungry, cunning man, in his demeanor the General appears compassionate, sincere, and speaking from the heart. His son too has that sort of benignant air about him.