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"Jinnah," a film about the austere founder of Moslem Pakistan, is an unlikely candidate for Hollywood's silver screen. The privately backed film, described by some as a cross between "Gandhi" and "Lawrence of Arabia," has its world premiere in the heart of the U.S. film industry on Saturday night.

A fast-paced period drama centered on the turbulent months preceding the 1947 partition of India, which was largely engineered by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, it is the first major international feature film to come out of Pakistan.

"Jinnah" recounts the extraordinary story of the man who, against the odds, established a Moslem state in part of postcolonial India. A year after founding the state, the chain-smoking Jinnah died of tuberculosis and his name, unlike that of India's charismatic independence leader Gandhi, faded quickly into obscurity in the West.

Producer Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic scholar at Cambridge University, aims to change the starchy image of the man whose face graces every rupee note and office wall in Pakistan.

The project suffered a series of setbacks that would have deterred all but the most tenacious filmmakers. Indians denounced it as anti-Hindu. Pakistanis were enraged by the choice of British actor Christopher Lee, best-known for his roles in horror films of the 1950s and 1960s, to play Jinnah. He was surrounded by armed bodyguards throughout the shoot after he received death threats. "Jinnah" is released at a critical time for Pakistan as it debates the adoption of Islamic law. The country is just starting to mend strained relations with the West, having pledged to sign a global nuclear test ban treaty.

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