Gul Makai movie review: Inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai is better documented in source material than this biopic

The script of Gul Makai feels like a compilation of information culled from news clippings, Wikipedia, and books on Malala Yousafzai.

Udita Jhunjhunwala January 31, 2020 11:34:39 IST

1/5

Director HE Amjad Khan’s biographical drama, on Malala Yousafzai and her family, opens in 2006. The Taliban has infiltrated Pakistan. As oppression and terrorism spread, we see the impact of the intolerance and bullying on a nuclear family in Mingora, Swat Valley.

Gul Makai movie review Inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai is better documented in source material than this biopic

Reem Shaikh in a still from Gul Makai. YouTube

An educator father, Ziauddin Yousafai (Atul Kulkarni), who runs a local school, nurtures his daughter Malala’s independence and bravery, and encourages her curiosity. Malala (Reem Shaikh) defies the Taliban’s ban on the education of girls and the need for women to remain out of sight.

The story continues into 2007, 2008, and 2009. By now, 115 minutes of the 130-minute film have elapsed. I am wondering when the director is going to get to that fateful day in 2012 when gunmen stopped the school bus 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was travelling in, and shot her in the head. She was gravely wounded and received intense medical care in the UK. 

A song comes on with a montage of a battle on screen. There is gunfire, bombs exploding, trucks rolling around, and terrorists and soldiers engaged in battle. The song ends. It is still 2009. The filmmaker has under 10 minutes to get us to 2012.

By now, the flat action scenes, the repetitive storytelling, the tacky wigs and beard attachments, and the over-the-top performances by actors playing the Taliban and the army officers are beyond bearable. Kulkarni and Divya Dutta provide earnest concern and chutzpah as the principled yet protective parents. 

Gul Makai is more of an origin story about how Malala used the alias Gul Makai for her BBC blog about living under the threat of the Taliban and the importance of education for all. As a campaigner and activist working alongside her father, she famously said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” 

But Khan’s Malala is mostly a whimpering child, fearful of the regime. In fact, Davis Guggenheim better catalogues her story in his 2015 documentary He Named Me Malala.

Gul Makai is well-intentioned but as a film, it flails about, overusing background music, abruptly ending scenes, not convincingly recreating an environment and shortchanging its subject. The script feels like a compilation of information culled from news clippings, Wikipedia, and books on Malala. Best to go straight to the source material and bypass this ennui.

Rating: *

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