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Ijaz, on screen & on Benazir lips

New Delhi, Oct. 25: In one scene in A Mighty Heart, Captain, also known as Javed Habib of the Karachi CID, tells Mariane Pearl that Omar Sheikh, the man who masterminded her husband’s killing, was arrested but escaped and has given himself over to Ijaz Shah.

And who is he, asks a distraught Mariane, when she remembers she’s not Angelina Jolie, that is.

He’s the home secretary of Punjab, says Captain, in a role brilliantly essayed by Irrfan Khan.

In real life, Habib went on to win the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, one of Pakistan’s highest civilian honours, for his dogged investigation in the Daniel Pearl murder case.

It’s moments like these, which tie up the loose ends between fact and fiction, that make the film worth watching.

And this is where it catches up with this week’s story.

The same Ijaz Shah, protector of Omar Sheikh — well known in India as one of the three terrorists who had to be given up in exchange for all those on the Indian Airlines flight 814 hijacked to Kandahar in December 1999 — is currently head of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau.

He is also one of four men named by Benazir Bhutto in her letter to Pervez Musharraf last week, alleging their involvement in the suicide bomb attack on her when she landed in Karachi on October 18.

On Thursday night in Delhi, for two hours in a newly refurbished hall in the PVR Plaza multiplex, A Mighty Heart came alive at a national premiere arranged by the American Center, Paramount Pictures and the PVR group.

The film is already a household name in India, not so much because of the Daniel Pearl story, but because of the media coverage given to Jolie when she came to Pune and Mumbai to shoot last year.

Paramount Pictures is said to be marketing the film as a love story and there’s enough in it to warrant such a sales pitch. Scenes of Dan Futterman (who plays Daniel Pearl) stroking the distended stomach of Jolie (Mariane), who is heavily pregnant when he goes missing, are tender proof.

There are other flashback scenes of a couple madly in love: in Mumbai in the water, in Paris on their wedding day, in a discotheque. Futterman does a good job of being unable to take his eyes off his beautiful wife, and who can blame him when she’s Angelina Jolie.

These are among her best scenes, too. Jolie’s best when she smiles, or pouts. But when the pout comes in the way of playing the role of a traumatised wife whose husband is missing for so long, she is uni-dimensional at best.

Jolie’s lack of histrionics could have captured all the multiple layers of grief, fear and panic. Sometimes she comes through, like when she howls, like a trapped animal, when told that her husband is dead. Or towards the end, when she allows herself a couple of tears in the loneliness of a small, Parisian flat.

Jolie has told many journalists that she spent a lot of time with Mariane to understand what she went through. Unfortunately, not much has rubbed off. There’s always a tantalising smile hovering around her face. And she’s simply incapable of expressing the duality of emotions that is the mark of a good actress. She remains so fully aware of herself that she is hardly ever transformed into Mariane Pearl.

Still, the movie is memorable because of the story itself. Western journalists have been reporting on terrorism in South Asia for decades. But here is Pakistan in your face, caught in the deadly crossfire of religious extremism and terrorism.

Karachi is an all too familiar South Asian city that lives on the verge of manic dissolution. When a journalist loses his life in this ghastly potpourri because he believes a story is worth following, even to the bitter end, you can only marvel again at the innocence of dedication.

A Mighty Heart may or may not bomb at the box office. It will surely succeed, though, with people who believe that living dangerously as a foreign correspondent is a profess ion that is still worth following.

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