Pakistan Celebrates First Oscar Winner, Saving Face, and Confronts the Acid Attacks That Have Terrorized its Women
Asad FaruqiDr. Mohammad Jawad treats a patient in Pakistan.
"Where are the stars?"
Masood, the consul general of the Pakistani Consulate in Los Angeles,
has hushed the crowd gathered in the living room of her palatial home in
Beverly Hills. Now she just needs to find the guests of honor. "Where
is the director? Where is the famous doctor?"
As the two make
their way to her side, Masood explains what an honor it is to have them
here this evening, the Friday before Oscar night. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
is co-director and co-producer of Saving Face, the first
Pakistani film ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. The
documentary explores the horrific acid attacks that disfigure hundreds
of women in Pakistani villages each year, and its star is Dr. Mohammad
Jawad, the plastic surgeon who labors to restore the victims to
Diplomat that she is, Masood stresses the progress. She
knows that airing her nation's dirty laundry might be controversial in
some circles -- people tell her that "The film shows a part of Pakistan
we should not talk about."
But, she says, "I look at it another way." To her, Saving Face
shows that Pakistan is refusing to tolerate such violence against its
women. Parliament has even decreed that anyone found guilty of an acid
attack will be sentenced to life in prison.
Dr. Jawad is not a
diplomat. He tells the assembled crowd that the perpetrators "need an
ass-kicking." He then tells Masood, "I hope you give a strong message
that your government will eliminate this man-made problem in the next
"There's a growing awareness now," she says firmly, "and that's a step forward."
is great," he says dismissively. But true progress depends on the law --
and, he adds pointedly, "enforcement of all the laws." The crowd, which
is composed both of prominent Pakistani expats and the film crew, claps
For all the surgeries he's performed in Pakistan,
London-based Jawad would not be in Beverly Hills for Oscar week if not
for an English rose named Katie Piper. The aspiring model's ex-boyfriend
paid a thug to throw sulphuric acid in her face, severely disfiguring
her. The voyeuristic horror of seeing her ravaged face -- and the 60
surgeries she subsequently endured -- made Piper a tabloid heroine in
Listening to a BBC report on Piper, Denver-based
filmmaker Daniel Junge noticed her plastic surgeon's Pakistani name. On a
whim, he telephoned that surgeon, Jawad, to ask what he knew about the
acid attacks against girls in his native land. While Piper's case is a
rarity in Britain, 150 or so such attacks are recorded annually in
Pakistan. Like Piper, the women often are disfigured by men they know --
men who are angry at their rejection.
When Junge learned that
Jawad had been regularly flying to Pakistan to perform surgeries, he
knew he had his next film. He soon enlisted Obaid-Chinoy, who lives in
Pakistan, to be his co-director.
"It became very apparent that I
needed a partner on the ground," he says, "and all the better if she was
female." With Obaid-Chinoy asking the questions, the victims started to
An early cut of the film opened with Piper. But Junge and
Obaid-Chinoy ultimately realized they didn't need a blonde to capture
their audience: The 40-minute film now focuses solely on Pakistan.
General Masood has pitched this evening at her home as a "totally
casual" dinner party to celebrate the film, but nothing is casual about
the elaborate buffet with its heavy china or the tables arrayed just so
around the swimming pool. The women dazzle in jewel-colored tunics,
trimmed in gold or silver and paired with stilettos; the men wear suits.
"Pakistan came out of the British system," one man laughs to an
American guest. "We are not casual."
Obaid-Chinoy wears a sleeveless burgundy tunic over slim-cut pants. Two nights later, when Saving Face
wins the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, she will wear
another traditional Pakistani outfit, this one in ecru -- and she will
look both serious and beautiful as she dedicates her Oscar to "all the
women in Pakistan working for change.
"Don't give up on your
dream," she will say, looking far too serene to have just become the
first person from her country, ever, to win an Academy Award. "This is
On Friday, though, the 33-year-old Obaid-Chinoy is warm,
almost bubbly. Greeting an endless succession of admirers, she can't
Born and raised in Karachi, she was educated at
Smith College and Stanford University. She returned home and became that
very unusual thing: a Pakistani filmmaker.
"People are behind the
message of this film: that this is a problem that exists in Pakistan,
and that people are tackling it," she says.
Even though such
violence seems worlds away from this glittering celebration, the film's
subject is never far from the conversation.
roommate, Dr. Kamran Qureshi, is today an internist in Southern
California. Over dinner, he recalls that, even as a boy, Jawad was "very
flamboyant and naughty." His work with victims has brought out a more
"The last five years, he's been pushing every one of
us to give back to our country," Qureshi says. "He's been very pushy at
Gunnard Doboze, the film's composer, tells Qureshi that he slipped into a theater in Santa Monica the night before to watch Saving Face. Even after seeing it 50 times, he found himself tearing up.
And he couldn't help but watch the audience as it absorbed the damage.
When the first woman pulls off her veil and reveals her ruined face, Doboze says, "You just hear the gasp."
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