For a film-maker who won a country its first Academy Award and repeated the same feat a few years later, one would assume she would be the darling of the nation. However, that’s not true for Pakistani Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy whose latest triumph with documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, has given her naysayers another chance to fire a broadside at her.
Addressing her first news conference since her return to Karachi from the Oscars on Saturday, Sharmeen said there are people in Pakistan who find nothing wrong in a woman’s murder. “Obviously working on changing that sort of mindset comes with its own set of difficulties,” she added.
Aiming to put all questions and the constant criticism to rest, the director reiterated that rather than showing the negative side of Pakistan, her primary motive has always been to use film as an agent of change. “If you see the documentary [A Girl in the River], we have shown how there is a functioning society in Pakistan where policemen, doctors and lawyers helped her [the victim].” Referring to Saba, the survivor of an attempted ‘honour killing’, she said the girl’s privacy should be respected. “She is fine and has recently given birth to a son,” Sharmeen added.
She proved her point by saying that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself took notice of the issue and called for stricter legislations to end honour killings.
Drawing parallels with Spotlight, the Best Picture award winner at the Academy Awards, Sharmeen noted that film, world over, is seen as a medium of advocacy. “Spotlight is a film that throws light on the issue of child abuse that happens in the church. But nobody over there is saying that the movie is tarnishing the image or reputation of the US or the church,” she maintained. The film-maker said, on the flipside, no film has attracted as much criticism as A Girl in the River.
Seated on stage alongside her crew at Pearl Continental Hotel, Sharmeen said while the filming process required extensive research and hard work, the biggest obstacle has been the prevalent mindset.
A recurring question on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook has been why Sharmeen refrains from making films on issues such as drone attacks? Unperturbed by this criticism, she noted that there is a unique story in every corner of the country and that she has always focused on the issues of women and children. “One thing that people should note is that every year over a thousand women are killed in the name of honour. And if you compare these numbers to other [forms of] violence then you would see what statistics say.”
Having already screened the documentary at multiple festivals, the next step for Sharmeen is to take the movie to schools and universities to honour Saba’s request that her story serves as an inspiration for others.
Where Sharmeen may have made films on issues such as acid-throwing and ‘honour killing’, her other projects such as Aghaz-e-Safar and I Heart Karachi highlighted unsung heroes of the country. They were, however, easily forgotten.
She also responded to film-maker Syed Noor’s allegation that she stole the concept of her Oscar-winning film from Noor’s Price of Honour. “I have great respect for his body of work but how can I steal the idea for a documentary from a fiction film?”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2016.