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Girl Uninterrupted

Friday, October 30, 2015
By Deepa Gahlot

A documentary called He Named Me Malala is scheduled as part of the MAMI Festival and will hopefully get a theatrical release in India.

 Directed by Davis Guggenheim, the film is about the brave young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose story is familiar the world over. The teenager, from the beautiful Swat Valley of Pakistan, was shot at along with two of her classmates, by Taliban gunmen opposed to education for girls. She was shot in the head and survived; not just that, she became an activist and spokesperson for oppressed women everywhere, calmly stating that the bullet left her with a hearing problem and partial facial paralysis. If she has nightmares about the incident, she doesn’t mention it.  What the film shows, is a girl of immense courage and steely will. She is also chirpy and giggly like a normal teenager, trying to fit into a different culture in the UK, her hijab firmly in place, worrying about the length of her skirt and disapproving of boyfriends.

Her father, Ziauddin, also a fearless opponent of radical Islam forced on them by the Taliban, encouraged her to study and speak her mind. He named her Malala after the Afghanistani folk heroine, Malalai, who fought against the British in the Battle of Maiwand, and is known as the Afghan Joan of Arc.  Even though the name is considered ‘unlucky’ her father chose it for his only daughter.  The father-daughter bond is strong and moving to watch, as they appear to give each other strength. (Typically, the mother fades into the background.)

The film blends animation, live footage and existing video clips to create an inspiring story of a brave young girl. She is seen with her parents and brothers in a normal family setting that does not indicate the constant threat to them for their opposition of the kind of militancy that snatches away women’s rights. She is confident and articulate when giving interviews or addressing conferences, equally at ease in glittering halls as in small village talking to star-struck Nigerian kids.

The tone of the film is serious and respectful, but not sombre. Malala’s suffering has not left her embittered, on the contrary, she is extraordinarily cheerful and optimistic.  Truly, a heroine for our times.   The film’s producers set out making a feature film based on Malala’s biography (which she makes fun of in a charming scene) but on meeting her decided to make a documentary instead. Who but Malala could play Malala?

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