Film review: He Named Me Malala2 min read . Updated: 06 Nov 2015, 08:59 PM IST
A powerful, if reverential documentary on the girl who stood up against the Taliban
From the title of this documentary it is clear that this film is as much about 18-year- old Malala as it is about her father Ziauddin Yousafzai. Malala’s story is well known the world over—she being the Pakistani teenager who spoke up for a girl’s right to education, inspite of the Taliban. This invited the ire of intolerant rebels ruling the Swat valley, where Malala and her family lived. One day some rebels boarded her school bus, shot at her and injured two of her friends. The bullet penetrated her head and, even as she teetered between life and death in coma, the 15-year-old was airlifted to the UK for medical treatment. When she regained consciousness several days later, the film tells us, her first question was, “Where’s my father?"
With an undeniable death threat hanging over Malala’s head, the Yousafzai family has been living in Birmingham since. Ziauddin Yousafzai named his daughter after a brave Afghan heroine, Malalai, who stood up against the British oppressors in the 1800s. Malalai believed that it was better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a slave for a hundred. One of the cornerstones of this film is to show the parallels between the historical heroine and her teenage namesake.
The film-makers use animation to depict scenes from the past—their idyllic life in Swat, the rise of the Taliban, and so on. Malala narrates the story herself, as she matter-of-factly recounts her growing up years, her father’s liberal ideals and outspokenness and what prompted her to speak up against an unreasonable regime.
Based on her book I Am Malala, the script is measured and practised. The most spontaneous interviews are those with her two brothers and mother.
Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting For Superman) paints the journey and ideology of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate with rose-tinted strokes, focusing on the father and daughter’s commitment to promoting education for girls around the world. For example, we see footage of her visit to Nigeria, which includes a touching meeting with the parents of some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram. There are also some disturbing images of atrocities committed by the Taliban.
Malala is highly confident, well spoken yet cheeky, and the story is powerful and inspiring. The documentary on her short life, which has had a far-reaching impact, is a bit reverential, safe and rather straightforward, giving one the sense that it might be aimed at children and adults alike. After all, Malala’s main message is, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world."
So who is Malala—a reflection of her father or a self-motivated activist? Her response towards the end is potent: “My father only gave me the name Malala. He didn’t make me Malala. I chose this life."
He Named Me Malala released in theatres on Friday.