Successor halts planned Bhutto biopic

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NEW DELHI -- A proposed biopic of slain Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto has been stopped by her widower and political successor, local media said Wednesday.

The refusal by Asif Ali Zardari, who assumed leadership of his wife's political party after she was killed at a rally in December, was reported by Pakistani newspaper The News.

The proposed film about Bhutto's life was announced in January (HR 1/2). It was to be co-produced by Mumbai-based filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and Karachi, Pakistan-based Skies Unlimited Films. Veteran Indian actress Shabana Azmi was being considered to play Bhutto.

The News said that Zardari's lawyers advised that allowing an Indian filmmaker to treat Bhutto's life would have "negative consequences" on the probe into her killing.

Lawyers said that no film could be made without "answering questions about who killed Bhutto," The News said.

A lawyer for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party told The News, "A Bollywood film without the clear identification of the mastermind behind the assassination of Bhutto would only help the assassins. It is not difficult to guess who the real enemies of Bhutto are."

Bhatt had planned to base the film on Bhutto's book "Daughter of the East" and was awaiting Zardari's approval.

The News also said the film was stopped because Zardari told Bhutto aide Naheed Khan that Bhutto had signed an agreement for a biopic with Robert Redford.

When contacted by THR at press time Bhatt's Mumbai-based office offered no comment.

Bhatt is among India's best-known directors for hits such as 1984's "Saaransh" (Essence). In recent years he has produced under the Vishesh Films banner.

Meanwhile, a biopic on Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of India's ruling Congress Party, also was refused permission, the project's London-based director Jagmohan Mundhra said. "Sonia" was reportedly to have starred Monica Bellucci in the lead role.

Speaking at the India-European Union Film Initiative last weekend at London's Nehru Center, Mundhra was quoted Tuesday saying that he received a legal notice last July from Gandhi's Congress Party, which refused permission for the film.
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