Written by Bhaswati Chakrabarty, Gul Makai is a fictionalized depiction of the events leading up to the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. Gul Makai doesn’t quite manage to do the worthwhile film subject justice (JRL: 2/5).
Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker
From the onset, Gul Makai paints a disturbing portrait of Pakistan as it’s overtaken by the Taliban. Instilling oppressive rules on Pakistani citizens under the guise of worshipping Allah, the Taliban tears through villages, shooting men who’ve shaved their beards and women who’ve failed to cover their heads and setting off “human bombs” in the streets. Following scene after scene of ruthless murders, we zero in on a family in Mingora, Swat Valley, and learn the personal impacts that these events have on the people of Pakistan.
A young girl, who turns out to be Malala Yousafzai herself played by Reem Shaikh, quietly sobs as gunshots and explosions rain in the background. She often wakes in a panic, having dreamt that she and her family are victims of the crimes happening right outside her door. There to comfort her is Ziauddin Yousafzai (Atul Kulkarni), her father, a school principal and activist who incessantly questions both the Taliban and the government that seems to be allowing these crimes to occur. When Malala’s greatest passion, her education, is taken away from her due to threats from the Taliban, Ziauddin encourages her to fight back. Malala writes an article for the BBC about women’s education under the pen name ‘Gul Makai’. This is the beginning of Malala’s increasingly public fight against the injustices unfolding around her. The Yousafzai family’s work is impactful, but it also puts their own lives at risk.
With Gul Makai, writer Baswati Chakrabarty and director Amjad Khan chose a fascinating and worthwhile film subject, but struggled to do it justice. While the depictions of the Taliban were disturbing and brutal at first, they became less impactful as the film progressed because they were repetitive and failed to advance the film. The film is two hours in length, but could have had the same impact in an hour and half, had the gratuitous scenes of shooting and explosions been left out.
More compelling is the portrait of Malala’s family, who demonstrate just how deeply the Taliban shook the lives of Pakistan’s people. Their sorrow and fear colors even their happy moments, like running outside for the first snow and cozying up on the couch as a family. Malala weeps incessantly out of terror and out of mourning for the loss of her education. Gul Makai depicts the devastation that pushed Malala over the edge, launching her into her influential career. However, to choose this beginning portion to constitute the entire film seems to do an injustice to the woman, as her portrayal consists predominantly of her crying in her house. I admire the filmmakers for taking on such an important subject, but the resulting film just misses the mark.
Notes from Coach Amelie Lasker:
Malala has become an international hero, but much of her great work happened after she was shot by the Taliban. The choice to portray her story only up to the point of the shooting was a strange one. The film makes references to her blogging and the precocity of her writing, but we don’t get to see the specifics of the personal storytelling that made her blogging stand out. In this portrayal, it felt like Malala could have been any girl growing up in Swat Valley in the time that she did. Perhaps this was meant to be a depiction of that life, of growing up under the Taliban and resisting, but for a movie about Malala, I would have preferred to see more of her story.
Q: Does Gul Makai pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
© Julia Lasker (2/6/2020) FF2 Media
Photos: Credit to IMDB.