'Gul Makai' director Amjad Khan: I don’t think Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani

WION Web Team New Delhi Jan 29, 2020, 10.42 AM(IST) Written By: Zeba Khan

'Gul Makai' director Amjad Khan Photograph:( WION )

Story highlights

In conversation with WION, Amjad Khan opened up on why he thinks activist Malala Yousafzai is not a Pakistani, ‘Gul Makai’ not having a Pakistani identity and why it won’t release in Pakistan.

A global icon, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and a champion for children’s right to education, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai dons these many hats and more. 

A strong female voice and an undeterred young woman who took on Taliban militants in the wake of an imminent threat to life, her story is now coming to the big screen in the form of an Indian film ‘Gul Makai’, a biographical drama. Helmed by Amjad Khan, the film is set to release in the theatres on January 31, 2020. 

In conversation with WION, Amjad Khan opened up on why he thinks activist Malala Yousafzai is not a Pakistani, ‘Gul Makai’ not having a Pakistani identity and why he thinks it won’t release there.

‘Gul Makai’ essentially means corn plant flower. It’s the pseudonym Malala used when she wrote blogs for BBC. The filmmaker used the same name for his film, as an ode to her brave spirit as she continues to inspire a million girls around the world. 

“I believe Malala is not from Pakistan because if she was from there, then after she was given a Nobel Peace Prize, Pakistan would have invited her. Even after she was given the title of a Peace Ambassador, Pakistan has not invited her officially. She does not stay there. Last time she went to her hometown in Pakistan, barring a few media channels who spoke with her, she is not welcome in the country. I don’t think that she is a Pakistani. She was born there but I think she is a citizen of the world,” said Amjad as he spoke of his film not having a Pakistani identity. 

He added, “She is a world icon, woman advocate who is currently working on education and environment issues.”

On how he thinks the Indian audience will perceive the film, Amjad said, “I don’t think there will be any problem in India. India is a generous country, it accepts everybody.”

While Amjad believes that Malala Yousafzai might be born a Pakistani but she is a world citizen, there is still a divide within the Indian audiences that would purview the film from that lens. On this, he said, “There’s been some tension between India and Pakistan since Pulwama attacks, but have we stopped listening to ghazals?”

The filmmaker wants the world to see what happened in Malala’s life that courted the world’s interest but sadly the film won’t release in Pakistan. Amjad confirmed our doubts and said, “No, it’s difficult” and explained, I know this because when I organised a film screening in London for dignitaries and diplomats of the UN including those from Pakistan, they told me so. There were 8 diplomats from Pakistan including Sanam Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s sister. The others were scholars and reporters from Pakistan. There were people from India too.”

He continued, “When I met them (Pakistani dignitaries) over dinner the same day post-screening, they told me that while the film is good, we won't let it release in Pakistan. They said, ‘You have shown a lot of truth in the film. That truth will come in front of the people.’ When I said that everybody already knows what happened, they countered saying ‘only a few know what actually happened -- people from a certain section of the society like the intellectuals and politically active people but films reach masses’.” 

Watch Amjad Khan speak to WION here:

The news of ‘Gul Makai’ not up for release in Pakistan even though it features a prominent name from their country is saddening but would hardly surprise people as recently another controversial film’s release has been put on hold -- ‘Zindagi Tamasha’. Responding to this, Amjad said, “From 2012 to 2014, Pakistan banned YouTube in the entire country. We, here in India get troubled, if for two months the internet is suspended in Kashmir. In Pakistan on the other hand, it remains shut for years. Pakistan is a country where there are fundamentalists, diplomats and people with different sets of ideologies. To comment on that country is to waste one’s time.” 

However, Amjad feels passionately towards Malala's story and promises to have made ‘Gul Makai’ without any gimmicks. “I have shown everything that happened in Malala’s life. There are portions in the film where you can hear chants of ‘Pakistani Army Zindabad’ and there are also portions where they are shown losing a fight with Taliban militants -- a reel-life portrayal of Raah-e-Rast in which the army lost against the militants." (In legalese, it was called The Second Battle of Swat also known as Operation Rah-e-Rast that began in May 2009 and involved the Pakistani Army and Taliban militants in a fight for control of the Swat district of Pakistan)

The filmmaker and his team took close to four years to research and finish the scripting of the film. However, in the due course of scripting, they could not connect with Malala Yousafzai. “This was the biggest challenge. As we could not connect with her, we had to work really hard on finding her life’s truth. But after completing the film, we showed it to her and her parents. They all think that the film is a true depiction of the tragedy she has braved.”

"The one thing that sticks with me after she saw the film was when she said 'I feel bad looking at it as it makes me recall the tragedy'" said Amjad on an ending note.