The world of self-exile of Pervez Musharraf is carved out of fitness routines, conversation with his wife and mother, meals, newspapers, televised cricket matches, Facebook checks to monitor the progress of his fan page and recollections of his time in office.
Filmmaker Mohammed Ali Naqvi adroitly exploits the possibilities that result from his unprecedented access to the former president and retired general. Admiration for his political legacy drives Naqvi to know Musharraf personally – with the consequence that he becomes a subject in his own film. Charisma between Naqvi and Musharraf carries the dramatic arc.
Bound by nostalgia for the days when Musharraf was in power, the two develop a good-natured uncle-nephew bond. Naqvi warms to his silly jokes and isn’t bothered by his narcissism. When Musharraf decides to contest Pakistan’s 2013 general elections, Naqvi genuinely believes he is well intentioned.
Musharraf has expressed his personal hurt with the film but interestingly, the scenes in Washington DC have particularly pinched him, as Mohammed Ali Naqvi discloses in a conversation with this author
Sans the ritual and paraphernalia of office, the figure of Musharraf that Naqvi summons is that of an affable middle-class fauji WhatsApp uncle who engages with politics from the comfort of his downtown Dubai apartment. Oblivious to his own mediocrity and insularity, Musharraf becomes an anti-hero.
Naqvi’s position is shaped by a life of privilege is that complicated by his identity as a religious minority. His uncle was gunned down at his house in the 1990s, at the height of the violent attacks against Shia doctors in Karachi. When Musharraf seized power in 1999, Naqvi was 19 and disillusioned with the venality of the competing Sharif and Bhutto dynasties. He bought Musharraf’s projection of himself as a moderate and secular leader who is tough on armed militancy.
Naqvi now wants to identify how Musharraf was able to keep the country from imploding. Musharraf gives him precisely what he wants to hear. “Killing of all minorities is most regrettable and I strongly condemn it,” he states. “These people who are doing this […] think that they have the right interpretation of Islam. […] having judged wrongly they are right, they want to impose this judgement by force on others.”
When US Navy Seals swoop down on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2011, Musharraf – seeking the backing of the United States in his election – visits Washington DC to clear his name. He maintains that the Pakistani leadership was arguably negligent. But when Naqvi presses him in private, he learns it is all smoke and mirrors. That even his favourite uncle used militants as a tool of covert strategic policies becomes Naqvi’s political rite de passage.
Forced to see how dictatorship ruptures democratic process, the filmmaker satirises his fallen idol in a parting critique. Musharraf has expressed his personal hurt with the film but interestingly, the scenes in Washington DC have particularly pinched him, as Mohammed Ali Naqvi discloses in a conversation with this author.
By experimenting with film genres and portraying political figures in a way not seen on television, the power of Insha’Allah Democracy lies in demonstrating the potential of independent film in Pakistan. It includes a breathtakingly courageous meeting with Sami ul Haq, the father of the Taliban, and an expose of Musharraf’s vacuous views on the state’s constitution that need to be heard by young audiences.
Making it easier for viewers to relate to the pitfalls of person-centred politics, Naqvi shares his journey of sobering maturation in the first-person narrative. He does so in a context where the process of questioning one’s own assumptions and finding one’s own answers might not meet sufficient appreciation. This alone makes Insha’Allah Democracy a bold film and Mohammed Ali Naqvi deserving of wide acknowledgement.