She won an Oscar for her documentary on acid attack victims in Pakistan. She won an Emmy for another documentary on children influenced by the Taliban. She has won several other equally acclaimed awards. She also featured in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2012.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is definitely not your average film-maker.
At the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013, seated on the stage of the Counselage Durbar Hall, with a huge mirror in the background, Chinoy looks younger than her 34 years. Her documentaries go beyond political and surface reasons; they bring to light the real sufferers of the collateral damage of the war-zone that is Pakistan.
Her Academy Award winning documentary, Saving Face, is a story of two Pakistani women who have acid thrown on their faces by their husbands. One fights the system to emerge a winner, sending her husband to jail, while the other resigns herself to her fate.
In Pakistan, women consider domestic violence a rite of passage. “The documentary shows that women can be empowered if they have the family support and what happens when they feel powerless,” said Chinoy.
During the filming of the documentary she learnt of a movement in Pakistan to pass legislative laws against acid violence, an endemic that cuts across strata. “The law was passed in Parliament making acid-throwing a punishable crime.”
But Chinoy feels the laws that exist are enshrined. “They just exist in constitutions.”
Commenting on the social structure of the society she said that there is a sense that women are men’s property. “Our society doesn’t punish men, the actual perpetrators of the crime. As societies we tend to look the other way.”
Stressing on making examples of people, she said, “We must send the culprits to jail. When we don’t make examples, we embolden others to commit even worse atrocities.”
Having women in the Parliament, according to her, is just cosmetic. “What we need are more women in the work place, making actual decisions. What we need is a change in the mindset of the society.”
A perfect example came at the end of the session when a young man got up to ask why she hadn’t included the ‘positive aspects’ of being a woman in Pakistan. Chinoy looked back at the man and asked him, “Are you from Pakistan? Of course! Have you even watched the documentary? No? Then before you make assumptions, watch the film.”