The new documentary film Bhutto has been available in some American cities this year including at the Sundance Film Festival and at most recently in Washington, DC where reactions are beginning to make their way across the blogs. The reactions from America seem to be overwhelmingly supportive, and when the film showed in Washington, DC it was introduced with a speech by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Below are some of the reactions that i have found.
Overwhelmingly, the reviews of the film are positive. Some reviewers commented that there was not enough criticism of her, but others commented that the film was very fair by including statements against her from Musharraf, PML-N, and even Fatima. Whatever their thoughts about this, people who have seen the film have been touched by the story. What is most impressive is the reports of high-ranking American officials who came to the film to show respect for Benazir Bhutto and for Pakistan.
I was in a room with members of Congress, high-ranking officials from prominent think-tanks…and a slightly out-of-focus figure from history. Sanam Bhutto stood in the corner, smilingly chatting with two people. She wasn’t out of focus at all – it took me a minute to wrap my mind around the idea that Sanam Bhutto was here from London for this premiere and I would get a chance to say hello.
The documentary showed Bibi’s family drama, her two terms as Prime Minister, and her personal life. I got the sense she wanted to maintain as stable a life for her children as possible, but was always devoted to her cause – democracy. Her brothers’ murders tore at my heart, tears stung my eyes. I was not alone; everyone around me was still, watching the screen, stunned at the deaths. “Bhutto” is not one-sided, as so many would assume so. Musharraf, Fatima Bhutto, and other critics of Bibi’s are interviewed throughout the film, allowing the audience to make his or her own opinion.
To me, there is only one opinion of the distinctively named Benazir. She was a woman with a steely resolve to help her people, a woman who carried a humanity instilled in her by her father. She was flawed, she made mistakes, she suffered public agony but her love for Pakistan was always in her eyes and her actions. The laws to help the poor in Pakistan have her name to them, and that alone serves as a testament to her love. Others may differ, and they are welcome to. But that is my sincere thought on her.
The premiere itself began with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, walking in. Instantly, the chatter hushed down to excited whispers and gasps as one of the most powerful women in America walked into the auditorium in order to pay homage to her late friend, Bhutto. Speaker Pelosi was asked to make a speech at the very last second so she kept her speech short and sincere. She spoke of one of her earliest memories of Bhutto was when the former prime minister spoke in front of a joint session of Congress and uttered the famous line, “democracy is the best revenge.” That single line summed up the entire documentary.
The filmmakers placed her life story into historical context, showing how the turbulence in the politics of Pakistan affected her as a person. The story of Bhutto’s life begins with the career of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Footage of his infamous speech to the United Nations Security Council shows him ripping up a piece of paper and stomping out of the room, showing exactly where Benazir inherited her conviction from. Bhutto quickly skimmed through his rise and fall in Pakistani politics, showing his desperation to hold on to power as his appointed of Chief of Army Staff Zia ul-Haq took control of the country through an illegitimate military coup d’état. The documentary continued through to describe the tragedies that befell her family, her political marriage to Asif Ali Zardari, her stints as Prime Minister—everything all the way up to her tragic death in 2007.
Her life was a tragedy indeed and the footage from the documentary caused one to sympathize with her. Her public breakdowns in reaction to the loss of both of her brothers to politically-charged murders caused tears to appear in my eyes—her pain was so transparent. I could not understand how anyone could accuse her of being the plotter of Murtaza’s assassination because her emotions after his death were so raw. The documentary featured interviews from her husband, sister, daughters, and son, allowing one to put aside their politics for a second to remember that Benazir was a human being just like the rest of us. Rather than merely showing Bhutto as a political entity, the filmmakers humanized this enigmatic woman.
Bhutto’s most prominent traits, her conviction and bravery, were heavily emphasized throughout the documentary. Despite numerous threats on her life, she still held on to her beliefs. Despite being a woman, she never let that hold her down. During Zia ul-Haq’s regime, she was held in solitary confinement for months, coming to the brink of death. Still, she survived and went abroad to continue her fight for democracy in Pakistan. Even in 2007, Bhutto knew that there was a chance of death. An interview with her daughters described how their mother wished them a happy birthday early because she was not sure whether she would survive or not. Even with these doubts, Benazir returned to Pakistan. One could see her dauntlessness as she refused to hide behind bulletproof windows. And that’s exactly when my respect for her increased tenfold. No matter what allegations were pressed against her, she was ready to fight the charges. She was unafraid.
Bhutto was presented to a packed house. Talking to the people at the ticket counter, I learned that the the theatre sat 400, and they had over 700 people request tickets. I was glad I requested mine early.
While some of the crowd were average people curious to learn more about both Benazir Bhutto and her country, Pakistan, the audience also included a number of elite journalists and representatives of the American government. As such, the screening served both as a means to educate an American audience perhaps unfamiliar with the former Pakistani Prime Minister, as well a time for her American friends and colleagues to remember her life and contributions to democracy in the world.
Far from a funereal atmosphere, though, the event was above all a celebration of Benazir Bhutto’s life and her message. As secret service stood watch in the wings, the front rows were filled with representatives from the State Department, Department of Defense, and the White House – all of whom had come to pay their respects to the life and legacy of Benazir Bhutto.
Tariq Ali says in the film that, “the whole story of the Bhuttos has strong elements of a Greek tragedy.” The Bhuttos’ story does, in fact, include tragic elements. I defy anyone to sit through this film without finding tears coming to his or her eyes. But one need not walk away from this film feeling downtrodden. At the conclusion of the presentation, audience members talked among each other of the powerful impact Benazir Bhutto continues to have as a symbol of courage and the promise of a democratic world.
Though Benazir Bhutto’s life ended in tragedy, her story is, in many ways, one that has yet to end. In Pakistan’s democratic movement, Benazir Bhutto lives on. And when the end to this story is finally written, God willing, Benazir Bhutto’s dream will have been realized and Pakistan will be the modern democracy she always knew it could be.
The film lived up to its promise. It was moving, powerful, and successfully humanized a woman and a family that have been an integral part of Pakistan’s history and political landscape.
The strength of Bhutto lies in its ability to capture the personal life and loss of Benazir and the Bhutto family, including her father, former Prime Minister (and President) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her brothers Murtaza and Shah Nawaz, her mother Nusrat, and her sister Sanam Bhutto. The film includes interviews with a number of analysts of and characters in Benazir’s story, including Sanam Bhutto, Victoria Schofield, Christina Lamb, Reza Aslan, Tariq Ali, Steve Coll, Arianna Huffington, Shuja Nawaz, Akbar Ahmed, Asif Ali Zardari, Peter Galbraith, Mark Siegel, and Benazir Bhutto’s uncle, Ahmad Ispahani. Bhutto was also at times narrated by the voice of Benazir Bhutto, via a never-before-released audiotape, and included moving clips with her children, Bilawal, Bakhtawar, and Asifa.
As a result, the Bhutto clan, whose story has often been likened to a Greek tragedy, is unveiled to the audience as characters in a fascinating narrative. The anecdotes make the family profoundly relatable, and include choice quotes like, “I am not arrogant, I’m intolerant of stupid things,” by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Benazir describing how her father said she “looked like Mussolini” in a newspaper photo of her with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi in 1972.
Introducing Speaker Nancy; Producer Mark Siegel said Benazir Bhutto and Nancy Pelosi had very close relationship with each other. When Benazir Bhutto was in opposition and not many in Washington’s power corridors would not meet her, Nancy always welcomed her whenever she was in town. Speaker Nancy Pelosi remembered Benazir and talked about the thrilling event when Benazir Bhutto addressed the joint session of Congress several years ago. At speaker Folly’s suggestion, Nancy and other women members of the congress organized a lunch with Benazir Bhutto. Speaker Pelosi said they were all so impressed with Benazir, particularly with her unassuming and humble way. Here, she was the first woman leader of a Muslim country, a symbol of changing world. Several video clips of the event are at http://beyondthebox .org/pelosi- other-luminaries -gather-to- celebrate- bhutto/. Speaker Pelosi’s remarks reminded us of her address on the House floor in support of a resolution condemning the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on January 16, 2008. In that tribute Nancy Pelosi noted “She (Benazir Bhutto) was an advocate for reconciliation, between Islamic and non-Islamic societies, and outlined how that goal could be achieved. She not only had a vision, she had a plan on how it would be done. The strength of her message and hope has underscored how much we lost in her tragic death.”
Although film is focused on Benazir Bhutto; it touches the tragic history of partition of sub-continent into India and Pakistan. Clips depicting death and destruction that resulted in the aftermath of the partition are heart-wrenching. The breakup of Pakistan and independence of Bangladesh after 1973 war between Indian and Pakistan brings home the most important message about the tragedies that have been inflicted upon Pakistan by regular military take-overs. The film then moves to the legacy of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto, who continues to be admired as a legendary hero of Pakistan politics. Important moments from his life including his famous speech at the UN Security Council discussing the cease-fire resolution and numerous addresses to mammoth throngs of Pakistanis helps audience to understand as to why Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto remains so popular to this day. Benazir’s interviews, speeches, and her interactions when in power or out of power, communicates the inspiring story of Benazir’s Life and work very well. Remarkably, the film lets express people who are who take no political sides, Benazir’s critics and her admirers to express their views. This includes Fatima Bhutto, her niece and a strong critic of Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and well-known left-leaning politician Tariq Ali.