Pakistan’s Oscar moment

Published: February 27, 2012
The writer is a reporter with The Express Tribune’s Life and Style section

The writer is a reporter with The Express Tribune’s Life and Style section

With Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s win, Pakistanis have had their own Slumdog millionaire moment. Of course, there’s a difference between Sharmeen and AR Rahman, whom many in India had expected to win (which he did in 2009).

In Pakistan it was different, in that many Pakistanis were either too caught up with their own day-to-day issues or those who were following the Oscars were not really expecting her to win.

In fact, in the run-up to the ceremony, I, as a reporter covering the arts and culture beat in Karachi for this newspaper, spoke to several people in the film industry on Shareem Obaid-Chinoy’s candidature. Most of them thought that she wouldn’t win, though several did say that it was good that Pakistan finally had a nominee at the Oscars.

Then on the day that she won, I had to speak to various people, as part of my job, to get their reactions. And here, too, I found that quite a few of them did not unequivocally congratulate Pakistan’s first-ever Oscar winner. Some even suggested conspiracy theories.

For instance, one response was that the documentary was co-produced and had another director as well. This person also said that it wasn’t really a feature film either, as if to downplay the award’s significance. Clearly, this is not the time for petty and/or professional jealousies to be coming out and such reactions are most unfortunate. The fact of the matter is that as a Pakistani director — and just a young woman in her thirties — she has already won the highest accolade possible in film-making.

As for the conspiracy theories, there is one, used by her apparent detractors, that she received funds for some of her work from the US State Department. Even if that was factually correct, so what! That doesn’t mean that the US government would make it a point to also try and influence the Oscars jury so that a Pakistani woman wins one of the awards.

That said, can Pakistani film-makers and the country’s film industry, otherwise known by all of us as Lollywood, learn any lessons from her? On the flip side, the industry does not do well, perhaps because it suffers from serious structural problems, and perhaps the win by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy will hopefully help bring about some introspection among industry people and maybe assistance from outside parties such as the government.

Just winning the Oscar, no matter how great the achievement, doesn’t mean that things will change, or that problems of its struggling film industry will disappear. However, it does show the significance of Pakistani issues on the global scale and is proof that if our film-makers are well-equipped with the technique of film-making they can beat anyone.

This historic win should also be taken as an opportunity by schools across Pakistan to formally introduce visual arts programmes — especially film-making — in their curriculum. If this is done, and investment is made in it as a proper course of study, it could bring great benefits.

Sharmeen-Obaid Chinoy is an inspiration for people willing to pursue a career in film-making. Also, and equally importantly, the award may help change the mentality found usually in Pakistani parents who often discourage their children from pursuing a career in the arts.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Feb 27, 2012 - 10:50PM

    Rafay, U wrote it wonderfully. Sharmeen deserves a lot of applause for raising an issue which made us all proud who are struggling for the rights of marginalized sections in Pakistan.
    Conspiracy theories are always in our part of the world, instead of correcting the wrongs within we try to bring others in between,,,this is high time that acid throwig should be taken as henious crime and awareness should be raised to stop sale of such acid.
    Your closing remarks are doable and nice suggestion because visual art is something that can minimize the violece from our society.


  • fahim
    Feb 28, 2012 - 12:08AM

    @Rafay: I admire her work, but lets be realistic. I have watched the “documentary” clips. Its NOT a feature film and contrary to your point, there was no major “film techniques” been used that we can say that our cinema has come of ages. It was in SHORT DOCUMENTARY category, with low budget, like any other average documentary. Her credit was that she picked a very sensitive, inhuman and attention grabbing issue, which is unknown and unbelievable to western viewers and jury, which did the trick.


  • Torrent
    Feb 28, 2012 - 12:32AM

    I am sure Sharmeen doesn’t care about it, she deserved it more than anyone.


  • rajab
    Feb 28, 2012 - 12:36AM

    Spot on! where are all the people who are “planning” to make films for about four years now….


  • Parvez
    Feb 28, 2012 - 12:52AM

    Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and her documentaries and Lollywood are poles apart or rather light years apart. Nothing the naysayers say can take this glorious moment away from her.


  • John B
    Feb 28, 2012 - 1:09AM


    BBC made a segment on the Pakistan born doctor in the BBC world program some time back and the US producer in Colorado listening to the program got interested and thus the documentary program became a reality.

    Pakistan state television and other TV stations should broadcast the documentary locally. Otherwise, PAK cannot take credit for the Oscar and the film makers attempt will be in vain.


  • semra jalil
    Feb 28, 2012 - 1:44AM

    @ fahim: other than all that it was ‘great documentary filmaking’ and its absurd how her ‘intelligent choice of a ‘socially relevant topic’ is actually working against great work! I seriously doubt her ‘credit’ is limited to that. Disappointing really to read such statements.


  • Sofia Banno
    Feb 28, 2012 - 4:30AM

    I am not surprised at the jealousy and people who are questioning the motives of to the reason this Oscar win, its a short documentary and it may be financed by the US government and the award was a conspired win!

    NO matter Pakistan lacks in the world of media the jealousy and conspiracy crowd are satisfied that Pakistan rather be reffered to a country of no talent, terror crazy, lazy citizens with no professional skills. The sad part is that they are correct we have a decent slice and you know if you fit that group ….stand up and cover your heads in disgust!

    The world stands up in Salute to **Sharmeen-Obaid Chinoy some Pakistanis prefer to sit back and be critical and jealous. This is too great a moment to give you naysayers anytjhing.


  • Stillen Wassern
    Feb 28, 2012 - 5:53AM

    @ all!
    Dears, whether the Chinoy’s work is parallel to stereotype presentations coming out by Lollywood, or its technically feature film or not, the bottome line is A PAKISTANI took the courage to come up with a thing of quality and international standard, which simply made our nation to be proud at least apart from the heinous blasts and riots or political scandals.
    Just can’t we all take pride in the victory? Rather than discussing technicalities or geners of the production.
    Congartulatiosn Pakistan for the win with all the credit to Chinoy.Recommend

  • rajab
    Feb 28, 2012 - 8:23AM

    @fahim: Documentary is a also a type of film making!!!!


  • Imran Ahsan Mirza
    Feb 28, 2012 - 8:54AM

    Good work Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. You are a model for the progressive Pakistan. I hope she does not belong to any minority group, otherwise she will be wiped out from the Pakistani history so it may not cause any inconvinience to the bigoted Pakistani clergy. It is amazing that a Pakistani won Oscar on a documentary. I don’t expect Pakistani films getting such a prize any soon. Pakistani drama is far more advanced than the film. Pakistani films have an uneducated audience and thus the producers don’t allow for too educated approach in creating the whole project.


  • KH
    Feb 28, 2012 - 9:24AM

    Its really sad to see that people cant just accept a young team winning an OSCAR, and for that reason they just want to denounce its importance.

    If people think its so easy to get an oscar in SHORT DOCUMENTART, then why dont you step forward and get it next year.

    We Pakistanis are always busy in pulling leg of the one on the top, instead we should try to get there with them.


  • Mr. Righty rightist
    Feb 28, 2012 - 9:49AM

    This should be a wake up call for Pakistanis.

    Stop watching stupid bollywood and develop your own film industry.

    First of all, learn to distinguish between real cinema and bollywood.


  • Asjad
    Feb 28, 2012 - 9:59AM

    Sharmeen-Obaid Chinoy you have made Pakistan proud…more than any other army men…more than any of these conspiracy theory makers!


  • sa
    Feb 28, 2012 - 11:30AM

    yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa:)…very well written…i am extremely proud of this lady and her spectacular team…way to go!!!! this is just the start of getting many more Oscars to the pakland:)


  • abdulazeez
    Feb 28, 2012 - 11:48AM

    @ Rafay : watch the oscar winning speech of mr.Daniel Junge. He said,he had the idea for the film after hearing about Jawad ,and asked sharmeen chinoy to work with him.He had been previously nominated for an both Oscar ana an Emmy…….that means the credit goes to Daniel Junge.


  • Fahad
    Feb 28, 2012 - 12:12PM

    You are absol right! She deserved it. But, the glorofication that is coming for on her way making Pakistan proud should also understand the reason why behind she made such an outstanding work. For the rights of women!


  • Anthony Permal
    Feb 28, 2012 - 1:49PM

    I can’t stop laughing at Fahim, the commenter earlier.

    Apparently he has a gift of knowing everything about a film’s technical strength and depth by watching a few 30 second/ 1 minute trailers.


  • LA Traffic
    Feb 28, 2012 - 1:50PM

    It’s a fixed match otherwise nothing worth an Oscar..!!


  • LA Traffic
    Feb 28, 2012 - 2:17PM

    You have hit the nail on the head, and beside that there was some home cooking too.


  • amer
    Feb 28, 2012 - 2:46PM

    We (Pakistani’s) all should congratulate her and must celebrate by giving her a well deserved tribute on winning the first ever Oscar for Pakistan.
    Please as Pakistani’s don’t be a “MISER” in appreciating Sharmeen or anyone else who happened to elevate our country’s name and image in the world.
    COGRATULATIONS…Sharmeen-Obaid Chinoy you have made us proud.


  • Akhtar
    Feb 28, 2012 - 5:26PM

    @Fahim. I 100% agree with Fahim. She might be talented, but she has portrayed the negative aspect, which highlights & creates a lasting impression on the minds of the viewer across the world. The whole world already has a very negative opinion already with respect to militancy, nukes, intolerance, drugs, & women abuse! There apart, there has been cases where there was honor killing by Pakis in Canada, UK & US.

    Now, a Pakistani women creating a video of acid thrown women, what kind of impression would viewers around the world?Recommend

  • A.Khan
    Feb 28, 2012 - 8:11PM

    I dont think comparison between Slumdog and her film is fair. That movie was not made by Indians but Indians were hired instead. In this case the leading role was played by Sharmeen in making the movie while she chose the partners to work with.


  • Ahmed
    Mar 1, 2012 - 2:36AM

    Enough of this talk! It is not the story teller but lthe story that won the Oscar. It is hard to find this type of naked aggression and barbaric acts any where in the world. That combined with the vicarious pleasure that westerners have from watching those “uncouth unschooled jihadis” easily equals an oscar. Enough said!


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