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Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy Won The Oscar. So What’s The Big Deal?

Euphoria. Excitement. Waking up at wee hours of the morning, and an excited nation praying with baited breaths waited hopefully for what was an expected and well-deserved win.

And it finally happened! Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s documentary “Saving Face” has won the Oscar.

And the euphoria is now viral. On Twitter, Facebook, blogs…..and that’s what we all are talking about, incessantly. Especially the Pakistani women.

Agreed that this is a great honour, but is it such a big deal as we are making it out to be? Turns out it is!!!

To begin with, the first reason is simply that Pakistan and Pakistanis are sick of all the “bad news” about them, both locally and internationally. Pakistan makes headlines, for sure. But mostly for a suicide bombing, for a drone attack, for an earth quake or a flood, for an air hostess trying to take with her dozens of cell phones at JFK Airport, for honour killings and violated women and extremism and radicalization. I can never forget how a fellow female journalist from Africa, in the course of a seminar I was attending in Washington DC in December of 2010, kept observing me for a while, then made the first move and came and said Hi and then said,”you smile a lot. You seem normal. How can anyone be normal in Pakistan?”. Well, Sharmeen’s win is an answer to that. Not only are we normal…..we are alive and throbbing and kicking! It is refreshing and replenishing to know that for every bomb blast and hate campaign news bulletin, there also comes along a Naseem Hameed, an Irfah Kareem, a Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. The inherent human spirit is celebratory in nature, not morbid, I believe. There is only so much one can mope and cry about. Good news like this gives us a breather. So yes, this is a big deal.

It is also a big deal because Chinoy is a woman. Contrary to popular belief, Pakistan is not THE most woman-unfriendly country in the world, but is not the friendliest either. We have our issues when it comes to women. Pre-dominantly, it still is a patriarchal society. Domestic violence, rape, acid throwing still happen. Women face both harassment and discrimination at work place. Men (not all, of course), still are the spoilt brats in a lot of cases. This is February 2012, and in Mianwali’s by-elections, women are still being barred from voting. But even then, we’re not so badly off. We’ve had the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world, the first female speaker of the National Assembly. We have an Asma Jehangir who scares the hell out of persecutor-type men. We have formidable talents in the likes of Mehreen Jabbar. We have women politicians who do us proud with some, if not all, of their feats – Marvi Memon, Nafisa Shah, Shazia Murree to name a few. And now we have a Chinoy who, being a woman, brings home the Oscar for the first time. In Chinoy, the woman who works her way up on the corporate ladder among sleazy flirts and the female activist who struggles to highlight women’s issues finds hope. So yes, it is a big deal. Though I must add here that not all men are patriarchal, chauvinistic sleaze-balls. We are blessed, as a nation, with an increasing number of level-headed, emotionally secure men who are the back bone for our success stories. I do believe that behind every successful woman, there is a man who believed in her.

Chinoy’s success is a big deal also to those wonderful, strong, resilient and “beautiful” women who are victims of the horrendous atrocity called “acid throwing” which is one of the cruelest forms of evil a human can inflict on another. It is a big deal to people who fight against these crimes – people like Dr Mohammad Jawad, the reconstructive surgeon from UK who comes back to homeland for “payback time” and does what he can to make a a few lives better. For activists, this documentary’s success is more than just an Oscar. It is something that pulls one back from disillusionment when one works day after day to make lives better with no apparent result in sight at times.

But while we are relishing this happy moment for Pakistan, exchanging mithaai and muabarakbaad and excitedly seeing Chinoy and “Saving Face” trend on Twitter, my inward hope is that the documentary which will now make people sit up and watch it, does not become a mere “tsk tsk, poor Pakistan” to the audience in the West. I hope it will be seen as an emblem of resilience, and not another addition in Pakistan’s list of problems. See it as a sign of the better days to come in the life of this brave, proud nation, who can and will have better tomorrows. We don’t need sympathy. We need hope.

Saving Face Trailer:

About FarahnazZahidi

Journalist, writer, Communications practitioner, teacher, media trainer | Literature | Gender Parity | Peace | Islam | Very Desi | Chaai, not coffee.

14 responses »

  1. Superbly written and well worded … congratulations Farahnaz ❤

  2. Your words say what my heart feels.. bless you!

  3. I cannot believe that even in something like this haters have emerged talking about why we need to highlight this part of the country and a more positive documentary could have been made. Talk about looking at the glass half empty. She has highlighted an issue that has made our slackistan govt sit up and be forced to react or act- whatever comes first. She has also talked about how what amazing work doctors can do and MOST importantly she has profiled these amazing brave women who have made a life for themslves despite the very worst life dealt them- I dont know how it can get more positive than THAT.

    Articles like yours – subtle slaps are what are needed to stop the haters from trying to get their two bit in. Stupid people. Never want to see the great possibilty- just want to wallow in the medicore reality.

  4. big deal? Try winning an OSCAR yourself lady. hmph. or even better instead of cribbing and not appreciating go please be productive and do something useful with your life.

  5. I am sorry FarahNaz. I feel bad for my previous comment. I read the whole thing with clear mind and it made perfect sense. I am sorry once again. it high time i did something in change and won an oscar or got my life in order.

    • Ammara thanks for your open-heartedness.
      I quite enjoyed your first comment & I know the rhetorical title of the blog can be misleading! If I would have actually thought it is no big deal, I would so surely deserve that comment 🙂

  6. Hi, I’m interested in sharing your blog and/or articles on but didn’t want to do so without your consent. Couldn’t find any contact details here though. Please do get in touch with me at editor [@]

  7. Fareshteh Aslam

    Well done FarahNaz. You said it like it is and that is at once refreshing and a balm to our mangled souls! Yes I’m heartily sick of Pakistan and Pakistanis being portrayed in a nasty light because not for one moment do I think we don’t deserve it or don’t visit it upon ourselves. Unfortunately we do. But that is precisely why it is so important to celebrate a Sharmaeen Obaid Chinoy. I believe that not since Abdus Salam and the Nobel has a Pakistani resonated on the global stage. Also I’m sickened by the constant refrain of “what have the liberals/English medium/parha likha ever done for Pakistan?” This, in part, is the answer. So yes, let’s celebrate the Oscar loudly and cheerfully so that, as you so poignantly put it, the world realises that Pakistanis can be normal too.

    • Fareshteh I am thrilled to get such an encouraging comment from you, not just because of the work you have done but also because of my “head-girl-in-Mama-school” factor 🙂
      Yes, precisely for all these reasons, the Oscar is huge for us.
      So glad to be in touch.

  8. Tarannum Zahidi Ahmed

    Wonderful article and love how you ended it by saying “We don’t need sympathy. We need hope.” And this is precisely the direction we need to move forward in. Long live Pakistan.

  9. Excellent article Farah …. well done!
    I was not in Pakistan when Chinoy got this award and some people were actually saying like this ” What’s teh big deal” and things like we got an award for something which Pakistanis must be ashamed of.
    I really like your positivity in your article, strengthing and encouraging more and more women to come forward and play their roles in society. Especially the sleeping Govenment and politicians are talking about it.


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