Pakistan Celebrates First Oscar Winner, Saving Face, and Confronts the Acid Attacks That Have Terrorized its Women | Public Spectacle | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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A Considerable Town

Pakistan Celebrates First Oscar Winner, Saving Face, and Confronts the Acid Attacks That Have Terrorized its Women

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Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge Dr. Mohammad Jawad treats a patient in Pakistan. - ASAD FARUQI
  • Asad Faruqi
  • Dr. Mohammad Jawad treats a patient in Pakistan.

"Where are the stars?"

Riffat

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

normalcy.

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

five years."

"There's a growing awareness now," she says firmly, "and that's a step forward."

"Awareness

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

politely.

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

Great Britain.

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

talk.

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.

Consul

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

for you."

On Friday, though, the 33-year-old Obaid-Chinoy is warm,

almost bubbly. Greeting an endless succession of admirers, she can't

stop smiling.

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.

Jawad's college

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

serious side.

"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

times."

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."

Follow me on Twitter at @sarahfenske, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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