A Bangladeshi student with no acting experience is to play the role of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai in a forthcoming movie about the work of the teenage activist who was shot and almost killed by the Taliban.
Indian film director Amjad Khan confirmed that 16-year-old Fatima Sheikh, from Dhaka, will play the central part in the film, for which shooting is expected to start in the middle of July. Mr Khan said that for security reasons, no photographs showing Ms Sheikh’s face or other details about her would be released until shooting was well underway.
“She is a student. She looks like Malala,” the Kolkata-based director told The Independent. “But there are security issues.”
Indian media has been buzzing with speculation about who might play the role of 15-year-old Malala since Mr Khan announced his plans to make the film late last year. He said he had been inspired by her struggle for the right of girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley to be educated, a story that had received international attention after she was shot while on her way home from school last autumn.
The English-language film is to be called Gul Makai, the pseudonym used by Malala when she wrote a blog for the BBC Urdu service website in 2009 when the Swat valley was seized by Taliban gunmen. The militants issued strict edicts obliging people to follow Sharia law and burned down girls’ schools. They were eventually driven out by the Pakistani army but the security situation remains uncertain.
Malala, who also appeared in a subsequent documentary about her work as campaigner, was shot in the neck after her school bus was intercepted by a Taliban gunman last October. They said they had intentionally targeted her because of her work and because of her alleged links to the West.
The shooting of the 15-year-old triggered outrage across Pakistan and around the world. After emergency treatment in Pakistan she was transferred to Britain where she has undergone reconstructive surgery and received rehabilitation. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr Khan said he had located Ms Sheikh through a friend in Bangladesh and that he had gone to Dhaka to carry out a screen-test. Her parents have insisted that her identity not be revealed until the second half of filming.
“Filming will take place in London, Pakistan, Iran and India,” said Mr Khan.
The selection of Ms Sheikh to play the role of Malala was first reported by the Times of India which used an image of the Bangladeshi student wearing a niqab, or veil, with just a narrow slit for her eyes.
This is not the first time Mr Khan has selected a controversial subject for a film. Last year he reportedly received threats after completing work on Le Gaya Saddam, which looked at the issue of divorce in Muslim cultures.
Malala, who was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, is due to publish an account of her life later this year. It is to be called I am Malala. The book’s publication is to be accompanied by two interviews broadcast in the UK and US.
There was no immediate reaction from Malala or her family about the film