On 13th October 2012, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Jung’s Oscar winning documentary ‘Saving Face’ had its Middle Eastern premiere, as part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. The documentary film chronicles the work of Dr. Jawad, a plastic surgeon of Pakistani origin from the UK, who travels to Islamabad, Pakistan, to help acid attack victims. He helps and performs reconstructive surgeries on many of the disfigured victims, but only two such victims were highlighted in detail in the film. Saving Face is dedicated to Rukhsana and Zakia, two women from southern Punjab, Pakistan.
The film is a roller coaster ride of emotions. It starts off with Zakia a 39 year old woman, who says she cannot bear to look at her face any more. Her face haunts her and that’s why she has stopped looking into the mirror. She shows the audience her past photos and how she used to be, before she got disfigured by acid. She tells the audience that she used to love taking photographs of herself; when her mother used to buy her new clothes, she would wear them and get her photographs taken at the photo studio. However, now she feels terrible after looking at the photographs and how she used to be. A face filled with melancholy explains she does not want to see the light now that her face has to get used to remain covered with a veil and sunglasses, in order to hide the face from the society and people, so they don’t get scared.
It goes on to show different women briefly, all victims of acid attack and all having one question on their lips “why me?” It is a powerful question and certainly something that should be pondered upon. Why were these women targeted? Why is it that there are over 100 reported cases of acid attack in Pakistan this year? What was their fault that they got so brutally punished? Rukhsana, a 23 year old woman and another protagonist of the documentary, also had the same question in her mind. Why was she punished like this and why did she become a victim of acid attack? Her husband threw acid on her face; her sister-in-law threw gasoline on her and her mother-in-law set her on fire. These women had no hope and thought they couldn’t return to normal life, but due to Dr. Jawad’s efforts, these women got a new lease on life; especially Zakia who had a reconstructive facial surgery done, which helped her shed the veil, make like her face again and bring happiness back to a certain extent.
Saving Face is an emotion-driven documentary which will make you cry, or at least get you teary eyes, as you can’t help but feel bad for these women and sympathise with them. There are many instances and painful moments in the film which will leave you with mixed emotions. You will be angry and sad at the same time. One such moment is when Rukhsana finds out that she’s pregnant with the same man’s child who attacked her with acid and because of this; she can’t have her reconstructive surgery. She becomes sad, but happy at the same time; thinking that maybe this child will bring her happiness. She can’t even leave her husband and family, because she has no other way of supporting her children and she doesn’t want them to suffer. She is stuck…
Take out 52 minutes of your time from your day, to watch this gem of a documentary, because Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Jung have done a good job. Granted that it could have been made better or better explained – like if Rukhsana’s sister-in-law and mother-in-law conspired to set her on fire, why weren’t they arrested by the police or why weren’t they featured in the film? Or they could have showed how the other acid attack victims were doing, in a bit more detail than they did. Regardless, this is a film that shows female strength and courage; how these women, even after facing such harsh and cruel treatment, managed to overcome that and living their lives. How after her reconstructive surgery, Zakia, dressed in bright red clothes and no burka or veil in sight, walked confidently on the street and even smiled; as if nothing had happened. That gives out a strong message that, even if something bad happened, your life shouldn’t stop. Like the age old English idiom “time and tide wait for no man”, one has to keep moving forward under any circumstances.