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Oscar double winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy rejects criticism of documentary

Oscar double winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy rejects criticism of documentary

KARACHI: Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy on Saturday afternoon rejected the notion that she through her films is showing the negative side of Pakistan to the rest of the world. She was of the view that issues like honour killing need everyone’s attention and that in accordance with the Quaid-i-Azam’s ideas our society can only progress if women stand shoulder to shoulder with men.

She was speaking at a press conference held to discuss her documentary A Girl in the River which won Ms Obaid-Chinoy her second Oscar award in four years on Feb 29.

“We should speak the truth. I’m speaking the truth through my films. What face of the country are you [the media] showing? I’m doing that, showing the truth.” This was her response to a question asked by a journalist at the press conference

Before the rather lengthy question-answer session, Ms Obaid-Chinoy gave a speech. She started off by thanking the entire Pakistan for watching the Oscar award ceremony and congratulating her through different messages. She also extended her gratitude to people working in Pakistan to highlight the issue of honour killing. She then thanked the media for talking about it in their prime time programmes as a result of which people had begun to take note of it.

She said her film was first screened at Prime Minister House, where apart from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, parliamentarians, cabinet ministers and members of the media saw it. She said she believed that Islam did not permit honour killing. She said the prime minister had taken a step forward which should be appreciated. She said now people were talking about a law being made to tackle the issue and termed it “Pakistan’s victory”.

Ms Obaid-Chinoy said she and her team had been thinking about making a film on the subject for many years, but the problem was that 99 per cent victims of honour killing did not survive. One day, she said, they read in the papers that an 18-year-old girl was thrown into the river after being shot in the name of honour killing. Her team, she said, rushed to the hospital to see her. She pointed out that the story of that girl, Saba, showed the “best” of Pakistan as well because there were people who helped her recover. She said after luckily surviving the bullet shots, she got out of the river, reached a petrol station where someone helped her to call a rescue team after which paramedics arrived to take her to a government-run hospital. At the hospital, she said, she was looked after by the doctors, led by Dr Shahid; also, the police and their SHO Ali Akbar cooperated in sending a special squad to catch the culprits, and lawyer Asad Jamal fought her case. She said Saba was her hero, her source of inspiration, because in our country women worked under tremendous pressures.

Ms Obaid-Chinoy said the flaw in the law was that one could be forgiven in such a case. She gave a couple of examples in that regard one of which was from Sahiwal, where a son killed his mother, but was forgiven by his father; a few years later, he killed his sisters.

She said Islam had given power to women, which could be gauged from the fact that a girl was asked three times during the nikah whether she wanted to get married to that man with whom her nikah was being solemnised. She said the media brought to light issues and the government took notice of it was a testimony that Pakistan was a functioning democracy. She said the government with civil society would bring legislation on the matter.

She said the feature film, Spotlight, which won the Oscar award in the best film category this year, was about the child abuse that took place in churches, but no one in America said that it tried to malign America.

Ms Obaid-Chinoy also spoke about the films that she has so far made on different subjects. She said she made two kinds of films: issue-based and on those individuals that we could feel proud of (unsung heroes). She said when she was young, her nana and nani (maternal grandparents) used to tell her stories about how Pakistan was made and the dream that Pakistan was. She said our young generation should be told about that dream.

In the end she quoted a passage from one of the Quaid-i-Azam’s speeches: “No nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with its men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.” Her speech was followed by four of her colleagues — Wasif, Zehra, Nadir and Hasnain — sharing their experience working with Ms Obaid-Chinoy.

When the floor was opened for questions, the filmmaker was inundated with queries. One of the first expected questions was on Syed Noor’s allegation that Ms Obaid-Chinoy had stolen his idea of honour killing for her film. She answered that a work of fiction could not be made into a documentary for the latter was about real life people. She said she had not seen Ms Noor’s film but had respect for him. When asked why she did not make a film on the victims of drone attacks, she said she made documentaries on children and women.

A question was then raised why she chose a subject that depicted Sindh in bad light. She replied that Saba belonged to Punjab, not to Sindh. Responding to a question on legislation on the issue, she said the media had power; along with civil society it could help bring a change in the people’s mindset.

Ms Obaid-Chinoy said she spoke with Saba on a regular basis. She said Saba needed privacy. She said there were people who were helping her get a house. Quoting Saba, she said if a law was enacted on honour killing, she [Saba] herself would thank the prime minister. On the topic of who funded her projects, she said Pakistanis funded them. She said she had not read the Huqooq-i-Niswan bill but pointed out the justice system would do better if people were more aware of what’s wrong in society.

Giving her view on the perception that she was showing the negative side of Pakistan to the rest of the world, she asked the questioner what side of Pakistan he was showing. She said her film also showed the “best” of Pakistan which she mentioned earlier in her speech. She said the talk of legislation was a positive sign. She said we should be telling the truth and she was showing the true face of society.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016

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