When Piers Morgan interviewed his pal Donald Trump inside Air Force One earlier this month, he was accused of being soft on the president. The sycophant in the room; Air Force One, that’s their pet name for Trump’s rectum, right? Etc.
To be honest, I didn’t think it was too bad – not the greatest interview, but he did at least tackle him on a few things. But these days you’re not allowed to think something is a bit meh, you have to hate it.
Anyway, Morgan has nothing on the film-maker Mohammed Naqvi when it comes to playing kiss-ass. Naqvi has gone to see his mate’s uncle, Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, in exile in Dubai, in Storyville: Insha’Allah Democracy (BBC Four, 9pm, Monday).
“Aren’t you going to ask me about this?” Musharraf says, indicating the framed Time magazine cover bearing his face and the cover line “The World’s Toughest Job”.
“Why don’t you pick it up and show it to the camera?” suggests Naqvi from behind the camera.
“No, you have to say: ‘What’s this I see here?’” says Musharraf, now taking control of the conversation. “And then I’ll tell you what it is.”
“Could you please tell us what that Time magazine cover is?” says Naqvi, obligingly. Oh, funny you should ask, it’s a Time magazine cover with my face on it, because I had the toughest job in the world at the time, my wife framed it, Musharraf says.
I think that makes Naqvi a whole herd of sycophants – trained, circus sycophants. Not fair? He’s a film-maker, not a journalist? That may be true, and there are some nice observational touches – of Musharraf in the gym, in the pool, on the beach, drinking tea with his old mum, watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks – filmed over several visits. Plus, Naqvi decided to leave the Time magazine exchange in: he is clearly not embarrassed by it, perhaps because it says much about Musharraf’s desire to assert control.
But there are plenty of other examples of Naqvi’s over-deference. Like at the end of this particular session. Will he finish with a killer question? Whose puppet were you: the US’s, or the Taliban’s? What is there to show for that $20bn from the US? You knew Osama bin Laden was there, hiding, in your country, didn’t you? They would have been good questions. Instead Naqvi says: “Sir, thank you so much. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
To be fair, Naqvi makes no attempt to hide his support for the man he is visiting. For him, Musharraf’s 1999 coup was a cause for celebration: a return to stability, with a welcome crackdown on religious extremism. Naqvi, a Shia Muslim, felt safer – less likely to die – than he had done before under Nawaz Sharif. But the good times didn’t last – 9/11 spoiled that, then pressure from the US and religious fundamentalists. Musharraf, trapped between the two, escaped across the Gulf to Dubai, Pakistan kicked off and Naqvi no longer felt safe.
That is the best part of this film: how the film-maker’s own personal, political journey and survival, and quest to establish whether democracy is possible or even desirable, fits in with his country’s last two decades. More than 20 years, actually, as it also examines how tensions with India have fed into Pakistan’s internal turmoil.
That is a hell of a lot to try to cram into a 75-minute documentary – pretty much all of his own life, about half of his country’s life, a sort of extended not-quite-interview with one former leader filmed over many meetings; the geopolitical landscape; the world; then and now. It hops about in time – sometimes I found myself wondering if the political rally I was seeing was to get Musharraf out, or back in, or out again.
Now, I’m no expert (you guessed?), but I shouldn’t need to be. I’m very interested – I want to understand more, I did learn more, but sometimes I – and the film – got a little bit lost. It is a fascinating mess – and maybe that is the perfect approach, given the subject matter. In any case, I would much rather watch this than Morgan’s Adventures in Air Force One.