Some in Pakistan have termed it as historic, few are happy that it has brought some positive attention to the country; some remain indifferent while others have been infuriated. While Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy basks in post Oscar glory, her documentary ‘saving face’ that follows the work of Dr. Muhammad Jawad, a British Pakistani surgeon assisting acid attack victims in Pakistan has ignited a heated feminist debate, musings into development pornography, a delving into the nature of pre-conceived notions the west has about Pakistan and of everything negative about the country becoming a cause célèbre for the westerners, so much so that attention has been derailed from the actual contents of the documentary itself. The struggle of acid attack survivors and the highly commendable work of Dr. Jawad, have been left somewhere far behind amidst the impetuous arguments. If a picture is worth a thousand words than definitely a movie is worth even more as has been proven by the current buzz.
For the skeptics the movie has successfully tapped into the prejudices of the western movie goers at the same time consoling their paternalistic tendencies. Their point of view is that while violence against women is a sad reality not just in Pakistan but every culture and society, this particular movie reinforces every pre-existent western bias about Pakistan, of the country being stuck in a rut, with no positive outlook and as usual the decrying of its negativity and the triumphant victory of a few rebels. They want a break from this gloomy portrayal of the country hence they don’t see it as a real win, but just the celebration of pick and mix facts that suit the western taste buds combined with patriarchal feelings towards those who are not as enlightened, cultured or developed as themselves.
The skeptics want a balanced and transparent look at the Pakistani society, its developments and freedoms, it’s trials and tribulations instead of focusing on the ills only. While some comments can be termed as downright cynical, there are a few that do raise valid points.
On the other hand, feminist lashback in the wake of such observations has been very strong. Sharmeen’s win is being viewed as the case of a woman’s win against all men which can be termed as hardliner. One question that is being raised by feminists is whether objections raised under the pretext of ‘concern’ are really efforts to undermine the quality of a female’s work as compared to a man’s? Arguments on both sides are rampant and words flowing freely.
Whether one likes the documentary or not is a matter of personal taste and interest, . For me it’s not about happy endings, but atleast questions are being asked, and an intellectual discourse taking place. And while we are at it no matter how you feel about the subject, let’s not forget that the people in documentary are real, they’ve suffered and been very brave in the face of adversity and the doctor’s efforts to restore their faith in humanity great indeed.
Mehwish Mushtaq is a Member of Awaam Bloggers and Vision21