When the name of Asghar Farhadi was called out as the winner of the prestigious award in the category for Best foreign film, for his film ‘A separation’, I texted my best friend who happens to be Iranian congratulating her, while doing a little dance of happiness for a fellow Muslim country’s achievement. Many of my Muslim friends on facebook immediately updated their statuses, even if they were not Iranians. When Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s name was called from Pakistan, in the category best short documentary for her film “Saving Face”, my entire facebook feed was flooded with Pakistanis across the globe cheering with joy. I can only imagine how many other Iranians or Pakistanis across the globe relished in this victory. I know my heart was definitely jumping with joy on both counts. To many, the Oscar represents an elite award. Much anticipated as a night to see many of your favourite stars, dressed in the fanciest of garbs. The Oscar represents the highest level of excellence achieved by professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. Year after year, we see big names getting nominated and winning for their performances. But the categories for foreign film, documentary, debut films, and short films come as an opening door for many aspiring artists. For some it may just be the recognition for their talent, but for a few the Oscars transcends beyond a personal gain and is a matter of national pride. For nations like Iran and Pakistan, this opportunity has meant a new beginning, a reason to hold up your head high amidst very bleak political turmoil.
Pakistan and Iran have shared a long history of friendship, but also similar fates in their share of media negative limelight in the recent past. Ironically enough both countries also shared a moment of great pride at Oscar night. Pakistan is dealing with issues on so many fronts, from national issues of security, home-grown terrorism, energy crisis, international scrutiny for her role with Al-Qaeda, to the very suspicious discovery of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan’s very backyard. Needless to say Pakistan does not have the honour of the best reputation on the global front. Sharmeen Obaid-Chiony’s win last night comes as not just a matter of National pride, but also as a much needed relief for Pakistanis who are having difficulty having pride in their identity as a Pakistani.
The film documents the journey of a British Plastic surgeon who tries to repair the horrific damage done to women’s faces with Acid by their vindictive or jealous husbands. Although, the subject matter of the documentary brings to the forefront a deep dark and harrowing part of the fabric of Pakistani society, showcasing the ugly face of patriarchy damaging the lives of many Pakistani women, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy’s film also focuses on the courageous lawyers and legislators who introduced a strict law last year that mandates a sentence of life in prison for those convicted in acid attacks. In this way, the Oscar is a symbolic win for all those working to eliminate this heinous act.
The Oscar means this and much more for the people of Pakistan. As Obaid-Chinoy hopes her Oscar would inspire other Pakistani filmmakers. “This shows that someone from their ranks can do it,” she said. The story of the document itself symbolizes the perseverant nature of Pakistanis and the very history of Pakistan and provides hopes to desperate Pakistanis all around the world that we will survive even with the odds piling up against us.
Similarly, when Iran’s Farhadi came up to receive the Oscar, every Iranian probably screamed with joy because finally Iran’s name was in the media for something other than the sanctions or its nuclear program. Farhadi capitalized his opportunity in the speech and said what probably every Iranian wanted him to say: “At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. At the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.” This provides the much needed breath of fresh air for the people of Iran and sends a message to the global community that Iran too has a lot to offer to the world and is a multi-faceted country.
Farhadi’s win couldn’t have come at a better time, as Iranian cinema faces a brutal cracking down by its government on its film industry. The House of Cinema, an independent guild that supports filmmakers, was shut down in early January. The government shut down the House of Cinema, claiming the guild didn’t have the proper paperwork to operate but the reality is that some conservative media outlets had bashed the guild and claimed it was a front for foreign plots. Farhadi’s win hopefully thwarts these unnecessary attempts to silence the brilliant voices of Iran and sends a message of hope to those aspiring film makers to continue doing their work and to not lose hope.
Both Farhadi’s and Obaid-Chinoy’s win brings hope to the many talented and aspiring film-makers, artists, activists, writers and many others to dream the big dream, and to not let the tainted image of Pakistan or Iran around the globe be a deterrent to achieving their dreams. Their win sends the message that by doing the work that you love, you too could rise to the top echelons; and can contribute towards dispelling the negative stereotypes of Pakistanis and Iranians around the globe. All Iranians and Pakistanis should be proud of their heritage and continue to celebrate the works of such great talent and to not lose hope against adversity, because good work seldom goes unnoticed. Here is a hearty congratulation to both these film-makers and the People of the Republic of Iran and Pakistan and a hope that both these countries will rise against such negativity and prosper as great nations.