'Gul Makai' Review: Seasoned cast lend credibility to the biopic

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

At the beginning of Amjad Khan’s Gul Makai, a young Pakistani girl asks her progressive father, “How did Helen Keller achieve so much in her life despite being deaf-blind.?” The father smiles and answers back, “Some people are born fighters.” The young girl is none other than Malala Yousafzai who would go on to become the youngest Nobel Prize laureate ever. Malala was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Kailash Satyarthi of India. Gul Makai presents the story of her struggle against the Taliban oppression faced by people in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

Now, in the year 2008, a journalist working for the BBC Urdu website comes up with a novel but dangerous idea of exposing the rise of Taliban in Swat. The idea is to get a schoolgirl to blog about her day-to-day experiences of living in the Swat Valley on a strictly anonymous basis. So, a BBC correspondent contacts a local school teacher named Ziauddin Yousafzai to help them find someone who can do the job. When Ziauddin can’t find anyone as it’s considered too dangerous by the families, he suggests the name of his own daughter, the 11-year-old Malala. And so that’s how she takes up the name of “Gul Makai”. Remember, this is the time when Taliban under Maulana Fazlullah is imposing all kinds of bans on watching television and listening to music. It is forbidden for the girls to get any formal education and for the women to step outside their houses. In these dark times, Malala becomes a beacon of hope for everyone. Her blogs make her an overnight sensation and as she grows in popularity, Taliban begins to see her as a major threat. Out of desperation, Taliban orchestrates a plan to eliminate her. On her way back from school, a Taliban gunman forces his way into her school bus and shoots her in cold blood. But she miraculously survives. Her story not only exposes Taliban but also inspires the whole world. Two years later she is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The story of Malala is a classic case of a nightmare turning into a fairy tale. But, Malala’s extraordinary courage and inexorable determination is the real reason why she has become such a role model for everyone across the world. Now, casting the right actor for the role of Malala was a major challenge for Khan. He initially zeroed in on a Bangladeshi student after several rounds of casting but the girl backed out of fear after her family started receiving death threats from the fundamentalist elements. Eventually, a young television actor named Reem Shaikh was cast in the role and it can be safely said that it doesn’t prove to be a bad choice in the end. What works to Reem’s advantage is a well-backed screenplay by Bhaswati Chakrabarty and a seasoned ensemble cast featuring the likes of Divya Dutta, Atul Kulkarni, Arif Zakaria, Mukesh Rishi, Abhimanyu Singh, Pankaj Tripathi, and Chandra Shekhar Dutta. Also, the film’s cinematography deserves a special mention. The team of Javed Ehtesham and Madhu Rao has done a wonderful job of capturing the pain and beauty on the camera with brutal honesty.

Rating: 8/10

A version of this review was first published in The Sunday Guardian
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