Islamabad: Pakistan stars in 'Zero Dark Thirty', from early scenes at a detention site to the dramatic closing minutes as Navy SEALs assault the hideout of Osama Bin Laden. But the Academy Award nominated film about the hunt for
the Al-Qaeda leader has sparked a controversy here about its portrayal of the country, and it will likely not be shown on the local big screen anytime soon.
Partly, the film taps into national discomfort that bin Laden was found to be living for years near Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, and anger over the US decision to enter its airspace and raid the compound without giving advance notice. Doubts about whether Bin Laden was really hiding out for years in the city of Abbottabad are also common across Pakistan, a country where conspiracy theories often have more weight than fact.
But Pakistanis who have seen the film on DVD or Internet downloads are also talking much of what they say are factual errors. In that context, Nadeem F Paracha, a columnist for the English language newspaper Dawn and a cultural critic in Pakistan, noted that in some scenes characters speak Arabic, whereas Pakistanis in fact speak Urdu or Pashto or one of the tens of other
languages found here.
In other scenes protesters get right up to the US Embassy gates when in reality the embassy is situated in an enclosed diplomatic enclave that demonstrators can't access. Some scenes that were supposed to show the frontier city of Peshawar looked more like 19th century Delhi in India.
"How can you make a Hollywood blockbuster, put in so much money and get simple things wrong?" Paracha asked. "Instead of the film being taken seriously, it became a joke among Pakistanis."
Also, the movie traces the arc of the CIA's decade-long hunt for bin Laden through the eyes of a young female analyst, who spends most of her time ostensibly in Pakistan. Screenwriter Mark Boal visited Pakistan to do research, but the movie scenes were not shot here. One scene that also raises questions shows a vaccination worker going to the compound door as part of the American plan to get DNA samples from the bin Laden family.
The US did in fact run a fake hepatitis campaign, but in the movie it's portrayed as an attempt to vaccinate against polio. This could add suspicion to polio workers already facing attacks by militants in the tribal agencies. Pakistan has only a few movie theaters that show English language films, and none so far has aired 'Zero Dark Thirty'. All films shown at cinemas must be approved by a board of censors, and the head of the censor board, Raja Mustafa Hyder, said no distributor has applied for permission to show the film.
The fact that neighboring India, Pakistan's archenemy, substituted for many of the Pakistani street scenes has also raised concerns, said Rashid Khawaja, a Lahore-based film producer and distributor.