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Oscar for Pakistan: Time to celebrate?

Well, Pakistan has won an Oscar. As part of the usual rite and ritual, a major hype was created by our most vibrant electronic media. There was an instant barrage of congratulatory messages by our politicians.

The event was hailed as a huge achievement and something to be celebrated nationwide. Patriotic songs aired non-stop. Vital Signs’ all-time favourite, “Hum hein Pakistani, hum to jetein gey, haan jeete gey/ Har maidan me, hartoofan me, har mushkil me jetein gey”, was particularly played time and again. So much so that I, even the pessimist of pessimists, felt encouraged.

There was this final Twenty20 match between Pakistan and England, and I immediately switched from news to sports channel – in the hope that we, the greens, would also win here.

Actually, I was not really hoping. I was dead sure. But ugh, no! I was wrong. We lost. Perhaps, we are not that great to steal every other show. Only we, as a nation, have this incorrigible habit of going hyper most of the times, I mumbled.

Of all the messages, the premier’s was as usual the funniest, which makes me think there should be a Nobel Prize for cracking jokes. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the director of the documentary, Saving Face, would be given ‘a high civil award’ for her achievement, he blurted. The Foreign Certificate, you know! We invariably need it to acknowledge our own artists’ credentials. What a pity!

Just why don’t we recognise our own heroes and heroines ourselves? And just why would we wait for a foreign blessing for that? And then if we don’t have the requisite acumen, just why don’t we sit back silently and stop playing the fool?

The boss was not wrong after all, some would say. We must build this pipeline with Iran. If not of natural gas, then at least of the filmmaking industry.

Iran has a rich history with respect to art and literature and has a vibrant film industry as such. So while Pakistan was awarded for its short documentary, Iran’s A Separation won as the Best Foreign Language Film. Paradoxically, the two are caught in the international whirlpool of security issues. Let’s see, if culture and not politics gets ascendency in the coming days.

Since, we are so fond of drawing comparisons with next door, India, let’s make one here also. India has sent well over three dozen films to the Oscars during the last 50 years. Only three ever managed to be nominated: Mother India, Salam Bombay, and Lagaan. None made it for the final kill, though. The famous Bengali filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, was, nonetheless, awarded Lifetime Achievement Award toward the end of his life. In more recent times, A.R. Rahman and Gulzar have also won the same laurels. These laurels have nothing to do with the mainstream film industry, though – an industry famous for its Himalayan size and churning out of thousands of flicks every single year.

The documentary is yet to be premiered on HBO and it is premature to comment on its content – more like the Nobel Peace Prize, which was prematurely bestowed on President Barack Obama. Obaid-Chinoy, in an interview with BBC’s Wusatullah Khan, however, claimed the story is one of hope and resilience. That might be so, for, indeed, the work of the British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr Mohammad Jawad, – whose travels are chronicled in the documentary – is one of selfless sacrifice and altruism.

Having said that, the overall theme, nonetheless, exposes quite a horrid and macabre face of Pakistan viz. the acid attacks on the fair sex. If anything, the documentary calls more for introspection than for celebration.

I don’t know, but every time I think of Obaid-Chinoy, the sad and long-drawn face of Mukhtaran Mai comes to my mind. The poor thing had an anti-climax to her world-renowned case. She had almost cult-like status in her day. She was also on the cover of almost every other global magazine. But, she was not a happy woman at the end of the day, as she fumed so furiously at the court’s decision to set all the accused scot-free.

Besides, we have all the laws, articles, rules, regulations, bills, conventions, and amendments, but no change on the ground. We have the Women’s Protection Bill. We also have the Women Rights Bill. We even have the Anti-Acid Throwing Bill. But they are all only paper-powered. The simple fact is we have no human rights in our society. The day the Oscars were announced, there was a bomb blast in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and scores died. No one seemed to care. We’ve kind of developed a symbiosis with our cancerous state.

In the flurry of mass communications onslaught, we also overlook some important piece of information. And it happens almost every time. No one seems to bother to acknowledge that Obaid-Chinoy also has a co-director on her documentary: Daniel Junge. Is not it a bit unfair? The good co-director is a US citizen and some pro-American nincompoop might even say we cannot achieve anything of value without the USA’s help, even in the entertainment business.

I personally have no problem with the topic in so far as it is treated with a critical, unbiased and unprejudiced mind. It just so happens, however, that political theorists and analysts in the West invariably entwine violence against women with the religion, Islam. Such a practice in itself is a sorry affair and calls for correction. The shuttlecock burqa, for instance, is notoriously depicted in the Western press, as the particular brand of Islamic veil. Few have the realisation that such a practice has more to do with local customs and traditions than the religion itself.

Our past experience with the “noble” prizes is not that pleasant, too. Look what we have done to the good physicist; Dr Abdus Salam. He was the only Pakistani ever to receive the Nobel Prize – a prize more revered and coveted than the Oscars. We even denied him his resting place. No wonder then. There is a great dearth of great men and women in our land of the dispossessed.

In the final analysis, Ms Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy deserves all the kudos, laurels and accolades, for she has bravely exposed the grim, deformed and maligned face of our society. Her theme is a sorry one. But that’s ‘OK’. That is how we are, after all. One just hopes she serves as an inspiration to all the daughters of the land.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.


The Nation