Updated: September 28, 2015 1:09:27 pm
At a time when the Pope, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi happened to be in town, the London NYC Hotel, located on 54 St & 7th Ave in New York, was perhaps my best option. A stone’s throw from Central Park and more importantly right next to the iconic Ziegfeld Theatre – the venue for the premiere of Malala’s documentary ‘He Named Me Malala’.
Ziauddin Yosafzai Saab, Malala’s father, had already warned about traffic restrictions for the premiere on September 24th and suggested I check-in somewhere close to the theatre to avoid a very long walk. Which honestly I didn’t mind given that the weather was lovely, autumn had just about set in and the evenings were nippy.
On the 24th, I decided to leave from my hotel a little earlier than planned. As I walked towards the Ziegfeld Theatre a little before 7:30 pm I could barely feel the wind chill, my mind racing through the events of the past few weeks. The month of September had been hectic – first London, then all over the US and now back to the big York. Work related but largely for my own catharsis – The ghost of my Malala/Masala controversy was forcing me to turn my biggest embarrassment into my biggest personal achievement. And honestly thanks to that every snide aside that found its way to my Twitter account. It helped me make that resolve and undertake this journey. First to meet Malala in Birmingham, UK, and now again in New York.
I kept thinking of the fact that I was walking the red carpet at the premier of ‘He Named Me Malala’ as a special invitee of Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Saab. Sporting a bright yellow badge on a black suit that said I STAND WITH MALALA. Her team at the Malala Fund had met me a day earlier and asked me if I would sport the badge. ‘With honour,’ I had said.
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At 18 years, Malala is still childlike in many ways. Perhaps more to do with the environment we in India, and I am assuming Pakistan too, rear our children. Warm, spontaneous and prone to giggling bouts, Malala is a delight to know and be with. But the same child turns into this voice of wisdom as she speaks about her vision for education for girls. And the opportunities lost by world leadership to impress upon those who subjugate women into a life of ignominy. She, you suddenly realise, is way beyond her age.
The buzz outside the Ziegfeld Theatre was electrifying as guests and special invitees filed in a line for their security screening. The street had been closed to traffic for Malala’s security, I assume.
Eason Jordon, director of operations and communications, of The Malala Fund was the first to greet as I walked in. This was a big day for the Malala Fund as well. Senators, diplomats, Hollywood stars, producers, Fox Searchlight – all there to support the cause. A few quick introductions and handshakes and my designated escort led me to the red carpet. A small placard with my name ‘Jaccky Bhagnani, Actor from India’ in hand she announced my presence on the red carpet. I smiled as I thought of how destiny had turned the tables on me. As photographers called my name I posed. The flash bulbs were still popping when actor Ashlee Wilson-Hawn, one of the 13 ladies who currently appear on Big Rich Atlanta, a new series on the Style Network, walked up. The photographers wanted us together, and that’s what they got.
Ziauddin Saab was waiting right ahead on the red carpet – waiting for me to finish with the photographers. A tight hug and a warm smile is his signature. We were meeting for the second time after Birmingham but it felt like we had known each other for the longest time. And as we spoke a familiar face joined the conversation. At first I wasn’t quite sure if we had met at all so I asked Eason Jordon. Eason whispered, “Scarlett Johansson. She has recent cut her hair short.” I said, Oh! Meet I must. So, I promptly put my hand out and introduced myself as an actor from Bollywood
“Oh I love Bollywood films,” she said. “I would love to act in a Bollywood film.” “Wonderful, you could act with me,” I quipped. Sure, she said with a sweet smile as she was led to her seat.
I went on and took my seat in the eighth row from the front. Introduced by executives at Fox Searchlights, Director Davis Guggenheim was the first to take stage, speaking about the various challenges the team had to go through recreating certain aspects of the unavailable footage. Now, most documentaries don’t necessarily engage you through the film, but Guggenheim – the man behind documentaries like ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and ‘Waiting for Superman’ – has you by the throat the whole time. Gripping, and moving. There were moments with the father’s anguish as his child lay battling for her life, that gave you a lump in your throat. I remembered the story?? as Malala narrated the story to us when we first met her.
Malala and Ziauddin Saab were the last to speak after the screening. Heartfelt and emotional her appeal for support to her cause – 12 years education for every girl across the world – had everyone on their feet applauding her vision, her commitment and her steely resolve to make it happen. They left soon after. Malala wasn’t feeling too well and had events charted over the next few days including one at the United Nations.
Just before I left the theatre, Eason informed me that both Malala and Ziauddin Saab had kept aside a half an hour time for me the next day. A time when dignitaries from across the world were waiting to meet them. Humbled I started towards my hotel. As I turned up the collar of my jacket to brace against the wind chill, I knew what I had to do. My mind had never been more clear. My resolve to work with The Malala Fund was now even stronger. As they say sometimes you got to do what you got to do.
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