India, Pakistan, Released docs — 07/31/2012 2:24 PM

‘Saving Face’ Provokes Questions in India (india.blogs.nytimes.com)

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Earlier this month, India and Pakistan concluded foreign secretary-level diplomatic talks that didn’t yield much in the way of rapprochement. Yet on July 23 and 24, the two nations shared a bonhomie typical of their cultural diplomacy, when the Oscar-winning documentary “Saving Face,” filmed in Pakistan, premiered in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Brought to India by the Asia Society, the short film drew packed audiences in both cities, with over 550 people turning up in Delhi and about 475 in Mumbai. 

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, one of the co-directors, was present after the film’s screening in Mumbai to discuss and answer questions. The interaction, led by the producer and director Kiran Rao of “Dhobi Ghaat” fame, was a spirited one, with the audience asking about unrelated subjects, from filmmaking to terrorism, in Pakistan.

The Mumbai audience was enthusiastic about “Saving Face,” which deals with the difficult subject of female acid attack victims in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The film follows the lives of two such victims, Zakia, 39 and Rukhsana, 23, who simultaneously try to obtain justice (in both cases, the attackers are their husbands) and try to repair their faces.

One of the film’s protagonists is Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a skilled plastic surgeon who leaves a thriving medical practice in London to help acid attack victims. With his irreverent humor and relaxed personality, Dr. Jawad helps lighten some especially traumatic and tense moments in the film. In one scene, for instance, he high-fives Zakia, the incongruity of which elicits chuckles from the audience.

“It was pretty hard hitting,” said Abhi Chaki, a Mumbai resident who saw the film with his wife. “It struck a fine balance between the lighter moments and the more morbid.” Another viewer, Jai Bhatia, said that he “loved the way the film was made, because you see the change that takes place.” Mr. Bhatia was referring to a scene in which a path-breaking bill is passed by Pakistan’s legislators to punish perpetrators of acid attacks.

The film aside, the audience appeared to marvel at the articulate and poised Ms. Obaid-Chinoy. Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said she initially rejected the offer to work on the film, the brainchild of her co-director, Daniel Junge, because she was just about to give birth in Canada. But after she moved to back to Pakistan, she changed her mind.

“When I began filming, it was very difficult, because it is so visual,” she said, referring to the brutalization of the women’s faces. “The hardest part about making this film was that we were not sure if we would have something people would smile about. We had to make sure we had a fine balance, that there were moments when the audience smiled.”

In response to a question about how she dealt with the anger she said she had, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy was philosophical: “We can’t expect people to see the light when they’ve been kept in darkness. These people don’t know what they are doing is wrong.”

Another audience member, who said he was held hostage during the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, asked about her views on terrorism. Tearing up, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said that one of her close friend’s father was also a hostage during those days, adding that she had many Indian friends from her college days in the United States.

“We as a nation need to discuss these issues,” she said. “Pakistan does need India. Our generation must broaden the conversation.” Asked by an audience member if she thought she had a future in Pakistani politics, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, who lives in Karachi, smiled. “Perhaps. I never close that door.”

Born and raised in Pakistan, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, the eldest of five daughters, said she grew up believing she could do anything as well as a man. At 17, she went undercover as a journalist to expose Pakistani children from rich feudal families who had access to guns and consequently terrorized their less privileged peers. In response, filthy graffiti about her was sprawled across neighborhoods in her hometown of Karachi.

She thought her father would tell her to give up journalism there and then, but he surprised her by saying, “If you speak the truth, I will stand by you and so will the world.” This year, Time magazine named Ms. Obaid-Chinoy one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

“Saving Face” has yet to be released nationwide in Pakistan because the nonprofit organizations involved with the acid attack victims in the documentary believe that the victims lives could be endangered. Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said she hopes that will soon change.

As for the film’s Indian premiere, she found it “incredible,” she said. “So many people have come up to me here and said, ‘Thank you for showing us a different narrative of Pakistan.’”

Source: india.blogs.nytimes.com (30/07/2012)

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