Bad blood as `Dracula' plays Pakistan's hero

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The Independent Online
Christopher Lee, the veteran horror-film actor, arrived in Karachi yesterday to find an orchestrated furore over the decision to cast him as Pakistan's revered national hero Jinnah.

Shooting on the pounds 3m film about the man who founded Pakistan 50 years ago begins today in Karachi. But Lee and the rest of the cast arrived to find they were the targets of a vitriolic and bitter campaign.

The News, Pakistan's biggest English-language paper, carried a front- page condemnation of the film, provocatively accompanied by a picture of Lee with fanged teeth playing Dracula in an old film.

The article headed "Is this man fit to play Jinnah?" said: "Pakistanis are furious about the casting of Christopher Lee ... his only claims to fame are his fangs ... [His] selection will allow the enemies of Pakistan to have a field day. They are bound to say that the casting was perfect because Jinnah is an arch villain in their eyes - a veritable blood sucker." The paper called on the Pakistani government to order the immediate suspension of shooting.

The producers, London-based Petra Films, tried to turn the controversy into farce by pointing out that the unsigned attack was written by a former editor of the News who had auditioned for the part himself.

But they were alarmed enough to call a hastily convened press conference in Karachi, chaired by the Cambridge don, Akbar Ahmed, who is the executive producer and guiding spirit behind the film. He was flanked by historians and former government ministers brought out to endorse the project.

He pleaded with a hostile media: "August is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan. This is your major project. It will show the younger generation what drove the Muslims of undivided India into following Mr Jinnah ...this has to succeed. At the back of our mind is the film Gandhi. It had a major impact on the world ... Please be kind to the foreigners ... make them feel welcome."

The film also stars James Fox and Patricia Hodge as Lord and Lady Mountbatten.