Pakistan’s first Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy talks to BT about addressing the issue of acid violence on women through her documentary film

Priyanka Dasgupta (BOMBAY TIMES; March 5, 2012)


Apart from feeling jubilant about getting Pakistan its first Oscar for Saving Face, an Emmy award for Taliban Generation and being the first non-American to win the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, does your gender also make your accolades even more special?
Yes! It feels great to be representing Pakistan as a woman on such prestigious stages. I am proud and grateful to be the first Pakistani woman to have achieved such accomplishments, and I look forward to watching other Pakistani women achieve bigger and brighter goals in the near future.

While Pakistan celebrated your win, the Oscar also opened the world’s eyes to the fact that Pakistan has victims of acid throwing, like 25-year-old Rukhsana, who is featured in the documentary.
My film combats the linear terms in which Pakistan is projected by addressing this very paradox. As a film, it achieves two things; first, it addresses a growing issue that is in dire need of awareness and collective action and second, it presents a nuanced image of Pakistan, one in which a heinous act is being addressed by a number of extraordinary people. It shows that Pakistan is not simply a nation in flux; it is nation that is in the process of fixing its own problems.

Acid throwing happens from Uganda to Cambodia but since your docu highlights the menace in Pakistan, it might just reinforce certain stereotypes about your nation.
Acid violence is a growing issue in Pakistan, one that is not unknown to the world, and I feel that the first step to social change is to admit that there is a problem. The film itself focuses on the survivors, not the perpetrators. It is an exploration of the way regular life alters when faced with irregular circumstances. Above all, it is a celebration of acid survivors and their journeys of seeking justice. I feel that the narrative will shatter stereotypes about Pakistan, not reinforce them.

Most international productions set in Pakistan have to recreate your land in other countries.
I think it’s a combination of factors; there is a lot of red tape in Pakistan. Our infrastructure is less developed than other countries, especially in terms of our film industry. Safety is also a concern, and I respect that it is a decisive factor when planning shooting locations. I hope that we are able to cater to these restrictions one day, and that Pakistan is once again used for filmmaking. It is a breathtaking country with rich architectural history.

Is there anything special that Angelina Jolie told you at the Oscar backstage?
Angelina spoke about her frequent travels to Pakistan and her experiences in the country. She said that she had fond memories from her trips and was glad that I had addressed the issue of acid violence in my film.

How do you define feminism? Who in your eyes is the epitome of feminism?
For me, feminism is the feeling of being safe; in your skin, in your house, in the office and on the streets. Feminism is the pursuit of these conditions, and all of the struggles that you have to go through in order to ensure that they are available to yourself and other women.

Do you watch Indian cinema? Any interest in Bollywood?
I grew up with Bollywood; my family would get together to watch films and my siblings and I would thoroughly enjoy the dances and music. The content coming out of India is incredible.