Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: In Toronto’s Top 10

Posted on January 9, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Pakistanis Abroad, People, TV, Movies & Theatre, Women
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Adil Najam

Canadian newspaper Toronto Star recently named its list of “10 to Watch in 2007.” Ten people living in the Greater Toronto area who the newspaper thinks are “poised to make a splash in 2007.” On that list is a young Pakistani documentary film-maker: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

I am particularly happy to report this news because I have been meaning to write about her work for a while, and this is the perfect reason to. In fact, she is an early friend of ATP and you may have seen her commenting here. But, it is more likely that you have seen her work on such award winning shows as PBS’s Frontline. And if you have not, I am betting you soon will.

Here is what the Toronto Star has to say about it:

In her short career, launched when she was still in university, Obaid-Chinoy has made 10 personal, passionate documentaries and won as many prizes. Now 28 and based in Toronto, she is making two more films in 2007, one on the lives of Afghan women five years after the U.S. invasion, and another on the legacy of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe.

Terror’s Children, [a documentary] about Afghan refugees living in her homeland, Pakistan, launched her career in 2002 and immediately won three awards. Her second, a searing look at the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan, won four more prizes, including the Livingston Award for young journalists under 35. Obaid-Chinoy was the first non-American to receive it. Other winners in the category of international reporting include David Remnick, now editor of The New Yorker, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times and Christiane Amanpour of CNN. Bill Abrams, former president of New York Times Television, says when he first encountered Obaid-Chinoy, then a college student, “I thought, this person could be the next Christiane Amanpour “sophisticated, smart, fearless.”

The list of her work, available on her website, is impressive indeed, and she has taken on some of the most pressing and important social issues to work on in her documentaries. The best exemplar of her work is the documentary ‘On A Razor’s Edge’ about the India-Pakistan peace process, shown on Frontline in 2004. The website about the documentary has an interview with her which shows her as a person of conviction as well as idealism. Both of those are endearing qualities in our world today. The write-up on the documentary, introduces Sharmeen and her work thus:

Spring has arrived in Pakistan, and the season has brought a thaw in the Cold War between Pakistan and India, bitter enemies for more than 50 years. A train is now allowed to cross the border. FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sharmeen Obaid boards this “peace train” in India and travels home to Pakistan to see how people are reacting to the cautious attempts to settle differences between the two countries. Born and raised in Pakistan, Obaid is now a graduate student at Stanford as well as a reporter for New York Times Television who has covered the dramatic political and social changes in Pakistan since 9/11 and the U.S. intervention in neighboring Afghanistan.

On the train Obaid meets a woman who is on her way to a reunion with her children and grandchildren in Pakistan. “I’ve prayed for the day the borders would open,” she tells Obaid. As the train pulls into the city of Lahore, Pakistan, Obaid witnesses the meaning of reconciliation as long-separated families and friends embrace each other. All this is possible because of a historic handshake between Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and India’s Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who agreed to begin peace talks in January 2004. That night in Lahore, Obaid sees the start of Basant, a festival celebrating the advent of spring. Originally a Hindu holiday, Basant has long been embraced by Pakistan’s Muslim majority. It is a time of kite flying, dancing, even drinking. As she wanders the gaily-lit streets at night, Obaid speaks with Pakistanis who tell her they are hopeful about the possibility of a real peace with India. But there is also a note of caution. “Ask me another time,” an older street vendor tells her. “If this interview is aired, we will both be jailed. This is Pakistan!”

If you are like me you are already hooked and you want to read more about this. You can, here. If you do, you will read about her encounters with Jugnu Mohsin, Ahmed Rashin, Gen. Hamid Gul, Gen. Aslam Beg, and many more in the weeks and months when the A.Q. Khan case was blowing up all over the place.

Better still, you can watch the whole documentary here. Or just do a google and you can watch a lot more of her work. Do so, its worth watching.

Congratulations, Sharmeen. Like the Toronto Star, ATP will also be watching you in 2007 and beyond!

43 responses to “Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: In Toronto’s Top 10”

  1. Dr. Haider says:

    Ms. Sidhwa
    What you wrote about yourself was ofcourse your choice. But If I would be you I would never response to such stupid remarks. I think most readers including myslef were getting sick of this person’s comments about someone’s personal life.
    I personally believe that he has never heard or learned any manners. I am saying this after reading his comments about you and reading his blog about a boy who was selling coconut and Mr. Alvi started asking him why you don’t go to school. The kid replied, I just don’t and moved away from him. But he still took his picture when he was facing away from him (obviously without that boy’s concent) and published on this website. If you want to read that shameful blog of his you can click on the link http://pakistaniat.com/2008/01/09/coconut-seller/

  2. Bapsi Sidhwa says:

    Parviz Munir Alvi, I was appaled and hurt to come upon your libelous comments. This is to clear up the matter of my citizenship: as for your other venemonous remarks, I will let my novels and my Lahore anthology speak for me. I am grateful to Sadia Khan, Samdani, and MQ for defending me in their comments.

    I was born in Pakistan and my parents arranged my marriage at 19 to an Indian Irani and lived in Bombay for 4 years. I was divorced at 23 and returned to Pakistan and went through the whole process of re-acquiring my Pakistani Citizenship in the early 1960’s. I married my [present] Pakistani Husband, Noshir in 1962 in Lahore and remained a Pakistani throughout and still am. Although I got my American citizenship in 1994 I also hold a Pak passport because of my dual nationality. Please varify your information before spilling your hatred.
    Bapsi Sidhwa

  3. Shaheen says:

    It is wonderful to know that a young Muslim Woman has made the Top Ten in Toronto. Bravo to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. I have seen many of her documentaries and she has worked very hard and gone to great lengths to produce such work. Why are we Pakistanis acting like ostriches, digging our heads in the sand and thinking our country has a SOFTER side? Look around you in Pakistan and you will see.. there is NO softer side. Much needs to be done to create a softer side. Every time we raise ourselves to a certain standard, we get hyper and go the destructive way. Unless we educate the masses, right from grass roots level, we have no hope… Taliban or no Taliban.

  4. […] Indeed, post 9/11 there is a real thrust of young Muslims in general, including young Pakistanis in the performing arts trying to build inroads into their host communities that earlier generations of Muslim, and Pakistanis, had so neglected to build (see ATP write-ups on Pakistanis abroad doing so in the theatre, in music (also here), in documentary film-making). […]

  5. Sadia you didn’t agree most of the time because I was attacking the ideology which you have been following for ages. You,me and others are free souls and have freedom to reject each others so it’s not an issue :>

    [quote post=”517″]ah hum Pakistani, but at end who is perfect only God[/quote].

    It’s not about perfection. It’s all about appreciation,responsibility and maturity which is very uncommon in Pakistanis, why? I don’t know at all.

    [quote post=”517″]But I cannot help wondering why did He have to create such an imperfect world[/quote]

    A creator will always be superior than the creature. Whether it’s a God,an artist or a software developer =).

    Sharmeen, I[we] have been waiting for some documentary to expose the dark[the only] side of feudalism in Pakistan. I wonder whether you have enough courage to work on this topic to show the real picture to Pakistanis?

    A bit off topic, GEO TV is going to release the tapes which they recieved from some UNknown person in which the person[if he’s real] exposed the evils of Pakistani society. Today they are going to telecast its first episode. I know Geo can’t be like Thelka.com due to their old policy “Charhtay Sooraj ko Salam” but it would be intresting how do they expose things on a public channel.

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