Kiran Omar


Pakistani Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for her documentary on the despicable practice of disfiguring women by throwing acid on their faces as an assertion of male supremacy and the efforts of a team of Pakistani and British doctor to  restore their dignity.


Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy made history – at least in Pakistan – for  being the first Pakistani to win the much coveted Oscar award for her documentary, “Saving Face”. A film that documents the cruel practice prevalent in segments of Pakistani society of throwing acid on women, brutally disfiguring them. It follows the Pakistani/British doctor who works tirelessly to reconstruct the maimed faces, restore self-esteem and gives them a new hope for life.


Most of these attacks are perpetrated by men whose romantic advances are spurned by the women, or sometimes by irate in-laws for perceived transgressions like inadequate dowry, “loose morals of the daughter-in-law, or even inability to bear children. It is estimated that there are approximately 150 cases yearly, of acid attacks registered by the authorities.


Obaid-Chinoy, although a young filmmaker, has accumulated many prestigious awards including an Emmy for her documentary Pakistan: Children of the Taliban, and is the first non-American to win the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.


In Saving Face, Obaid-Chinoy has followed the work of British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr.Mohammad Jawad as he launches on a project to restore the health and lessen the disfigurement of the attack victims, most of whom cannot afford expensive reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation. Dr. Jawad has established a facility for reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation in Pakistan that offers its services free of cost to the burn victims. Saving Face also documents the work of non-governmental organizations like Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), an organization that rehabilitates victims by providing free medical treatment and counselling.


The ASF was also working with female parliamentarians to pass the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill of 2011. When the bill was brought, there was a palpable sense of urgency in the air. Parliamentarians from different backgrounds came forward to present a unified voice. The bill was passed unanimously. Under the new law, perpetrators, if found guilty, face life imprisonment and stiff fines.


The film does not wade into a greater debate over gender issues, apathy of the state to provide assistance and the overall disintegrating security situation, rather it focuses on the courage and resilience of the victims, the humanity and compassion of Dr. Jawad, his medical teams and the legislators and NGO’s that are pressing on with determination and passion to bring about definite change. It chronicles the heroism and strength that is inherent in the victims through very personal interaction, and the viewer gets a glimpse into the lives and struggles of two victims who act as the main protagonists, so to speak.


Saving Face is not a detached, academic documentary, focusing on clinically documenting facts, it gives a very humane, personal and up-close glimpse into the struggles and tribulations of both the victims and those who are working tirelessly for change.


In her acceptance speech at the Oscar ceremony, Obaid-Chinoy dedicated her award to the victims and to all women of Pakistan who are struggling for change and are determined to have their stories and voices heard out loud. The film does not attempt to gloss over the flaws that exist in Pakistani society, it seeks to portray a nation that is maturing slowly and is ready to face its flaws and actively seek out solutions. Saving Face is an important film in this respect as it offers alternatives and home-grown solutions for home-grown problems. It debunks prevailing perceptions in popular media that for all that ails Pakistan, including economic and political problems, the solutions lie externally, be it international aid, or development programs. It reaffirms the belief that many young Pakistani harbour that there are organic solutions to organic problems including terrorism, social evils and crumbling economy.


Kudos to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for boldly bringing this situation to public awareness and to emphasize that the first step towards healing is to acknowledge that a problem exists. Kudos to Dr. Jawad and his team for heroically crusading to reconstruct shattered lives and to offer hope; and to all the NGO’s and legislators who worked and fought hard to get the Bill passed in Parliament to ensure legal protection to women.

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