There is a Malala in every household: Amjad Khan

Story of courage: A still from “Gul Makai”

Story of courage: A still from “Gul Makai”  

Inspired by the life of Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, 'Gul Makai' is set to release in India later this month

Inspired by the life of Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Gul Makai is set to release in India later this month. The film stars Reem Shaikh, Atul Kulkarni, Divya Dutta, Arif Zakaria, Mukesh Rishi, and Pankaj Tripathi in pivotal roles. The film is directed by Amjad Khan who is also the Goodwill Ambassador of IIMSAM, an intergovernmental institution mandated by the United Nations to fight malnutrition across the world.

Here, Khan talks about the creative vision behind Gul Makai, the research behind it, and the difficulties he faced while casting a Bangladeshi student for the role of Malala.

Director Amjad Khan

Director Amjad Khan  


What is the creative vision behind Gul Makai?

I got inspired by Malala’s courage right from the days she started blogging on the BBC website under the pseudonym Gul Makai against the oppression faced by her people in the Swat Valley. At the time, I had no idea that she would be hunted down and shot by the Taliban. When the dreadful incident took place in October 2012, I immediately decided that I must make a film about her courage and bravery. I had no idea that she will go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But it turned out to be a long struggle for me. The film finally got completed last year and with the help of the United Nations. I conducted a special screening in London in January last year which was attended by over 450 diplomats, politicians, and intellectuals from all across the globe. And the film received a standing ovation. I had screened it without any interval.

Tell us about the research that went into making the film?

I wanted to pay a visit to Malala while she was undergoing treatment but it couldn’t materialise due to security reasons. Now, I know a lot of journalists and authors in Pakistan who helped me with the research. Also, I talked to a lot of scholars, bureaucrats, poets, and artists to get a better perspective. But I felt something was missing. Also, I had a lot of questions that needed to be answered in order to connect the dots. That’s when I started reaching out to the local people living in the Swat Valley as well as Mingora. I also connected with people living in Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan. So, I had all the information with me. I handed it over to my writer Bhaswati Chakrabarty who ensured that we had a solid script to start with.

What exactly went wrong when you had initially cast a Bangladeshi girl in the role of Malala?

We auditioned hundreds of young actresses for the role of Malala. Finally, we found a girl who looked exactly like Malala. She was a 16-year old Bangladeshi student from Dhaka named Fatima Sheikh. While we tried our best to keep her identity secret, she told her friends in school about the same. And that’s how her identity got leaked. Her family started receiving threats from extremist groups. They even threw stones at her house in Dhaka. So, her family finally decided to back out due to the pressure. We started with the search again and finally, we decided to cast Indian television child actress Reem Shaikh for the role of Malala.

How do you see the relevance of your film in the present times?

I consider it a privilege as well as a huge responsibility to make a movie on the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. I strongly believe that such stories need to be told. There is a Malala in every household. Anyone can bring a change if you have the will to do it. And that's what our film Gul Makai is all about. I am extremely happy and very proud that the film is finally set to release in theatres.

Was visiting Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University a part of your promotional strategy for “Gul Makai”?

I would like to say that we live in a democracy and it is the constitutional right of everyone to protest in a peaceful way. The only reason I visited JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia was to show solidarity with the students and condemn the behaviour of police and the government.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 12:09:22 PM |

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