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Bringing a smile to her face

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Joyous moment Pinki smiles after the operation
Joyous moment Pinki smiles after the operation

“Smile Pinki” brings hope for children born with a cleft lip

This year’s Oscar ceremony is special in more ways than one. While the Slumdog juggernaut looked unstoppable, there was a Pinki who smiled as well. Yes, we are talking about Smile Pinki, the 39-minute documentary by Megan Mylan, which won in the best documentary category. The film captures the desperation, poverty, emotion, fear, relief, amazement and hope of Pinki, a child from nondescript Rampur Dahaba village of Mirzapur, born with a cleft lip. Here the joy is not because the film is based in India or it is about an Indian girl, but because the world will get to know the plight of several Pinkies who are forced to lead a life of seclusion due to a deformity which knows no class or creed. Most important, it can be easily corrected.

Megan got to know about Pinki, courtesy Smile Train, an international charity committed to correcting cleft lip and palate. “Megan met our international director in the U.S. He suggested the Varanasi centre of Smile Train in India. After the Oscar nomination, people thought Pinki was a one-off case. They didn’t know that we work with 160 hospitals and more than 250 surgeons in India. Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh who operated on Pinki is one of them. So far we have sponsored over 1,50,000 surgeries in India,” says Satish Kalra, Regional Director, Smile Train.

Kalra says, “One in 700 children is born with a cleft lip. The rate is the same in Bihar as in New York. What you need is a skilled plastic surgeon. In India many can’t afford the surgery or are ignorant of it, so the problem is more apparent. The surgery costs around Rs. 70,000 to Rs. 1 lakh in a big private hospital like Apollo and Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 35,000 in a government hospital. As we do bulk bookings, the average cost comes to around Rs.10,000, which Smile Train sponsors.”

Kalra says the social stigma attached to cleft lip is huge. “Pinki had no friends and girls like her could not get married, as they are considered a bad omen. But after the Oscar nomination and the subsequent media attention, there were posters in her village exclaiming ‘Hollywood jana hai, Oscar jeetke lana hai’, as if it were some race, Pinki had to win!”

He recalls how Megan tried to figure out the emotional side of the problem. “She has traced Pinki’s life before and after the operation. She has taken shots of Pinki’s father caressing her hair after the operation, which are really touching.”

ANUJ KUMAR

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