The Making Of
Filmmakers Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan talk about the making of DINNER WITH THE PRESIDENT: negotiating security, avoiding the typical journalist questions and the role of women in Pakistani politics.
What led you to make this film?
After President Pervez Musharraf took office, a basic change in the composition of the ruling elite in Pakistan came to light. The triangular alliance between the army, feudalistic landowners and religious leaders had broken down. I wanted to capture this historic shift in power on film.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
The biggest challenge by far was organizing the dinner and discussion with the President. There had been two assassination attempts against him and so negotiating the security cordon was a Herculean task.
How did you get President Musharraf to agree to be in the film?
The President knew about my previous film Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) and was receptive to the idea of my documentary.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
We gained trust by clearly explaining the nature and purpose of the film.
You pose the questions, “What is democracy?” and “What is the place of women in Pakistan’s political system?” How would you personally answer these questions?
Throughout history rulers have been compelled to seek the consent of the ruled, mainly because rulers were always in the minority and applying coercion to the majority does not work in the long run. Democracy is the modern political instrument for engineering the consent of the governed, expressed through the ballot.
Women have participated widely in the political process in Pakistan, both as members of political parties and as members of National and Provincial Assemblies and Senate. But the situation, of course, is far from perfect. Patriarchy and religious orthodoxy are major obstacles. Though steady progress has been made, the spread of Talibanisation since the mid-1990s is tending to roll back the advances women have made in the past.
What do you see for the political future of Pakistan?
If the market economy continues to grow and the middle class expands, I foresee a rapid development of modern political institutions.
What didn’t get included in your film that you would have liked to?
I was unable to include dinner interviews with the leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party (Benazir Bhutto) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (Nawaz Sharif). I feel the contrast between the dinner with President Musharraf and his family and dinners with Benazir and her spouse and Nawaz Sharif and his spouse would have revealed volumes about them as political leaders.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
The debate with the tribal elders was exhilarating.
Were there any technical challenges you faced while shooting, and if so, how did you resolve them?
The complex interplay between the subjects in the film could not be caught with one camera. So I used a two-camera team.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
The audience response was clear cut. The majority appreciated seeing a perspective of President Musharraf so rarely presented in print and electronic media. A few were appalled that I chose to make a film about a “dictator.”
All the people featured in the film would no doubt have seen its broadcast by a satellite channel in Pakistan. The channel held a panel discussion about the broadcast that included the co-directors. Several participants were glad to have contributed to a film that caught a slice of Pakistani history.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
The will to tell stories that could change the way we see the world.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
We wanted to reach a discerning audience.
Is there anything else you’d like to share in this Q&A?
I was frequently asked, “Why didn’t you question the President about the coup, about retaining his post as Chief of Army?” and so on. My reply was the same every time. I would tell them, “Those questions have been asked umpteen times by media persons, largely to embarrass the President. It was not my intention to traverse the beaten track.”
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
I was unable to arrange a dinner with a feudal political family.
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