Page last updated at 11:13 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Smile Pinki wins best short Oscar

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Smile Pinki poster (Picture: Dr Subodh Kumar Singh)
Campaigners say the award will help cleft children

The story of an Indian girl born with a cleft lip has won the Oscar award in the short documentary feature category.

Smile Pinki tells the story of eight-year-old Pinki's journey from being a social outcast in her village to her acceptance by society.

The 39-minute film, made by American director Megan Mylan, was one of four short documentaries nominated for the Academy Awards.

Campaigners say it is a big boost for children born needing cleft surgery.

Ms Mylan thanked Pinki in her acceptance speech at the award ceremony in Hollywood.

"Thank you Pinki. Thank you for letting me tell your incredible story," she said.


Pinki, for her part, had fallen asleep before the award was announced.

"Pinki was in the hall, but was asleep by then, it was quite late," plastic surgeon Dr Subodh Kumar Singh told the BBC from Los Angeles.

Pinki in the US (Picture: Dr Subodh Kumar Singh)

Dr Singh performed the corrective surgery on Pinki in 2007 which transformed her life.

"Before the awards, she was very good on the red carpet and posed for pictures with the rest of the team. But she got tired and fell asleep," he said.

Dr Singh described Smile Pinki's victory as "fabulous".

"The Oscar is the biggest news for cleft children. It will bring awareness about the problem and help the cause of four million children worldwide who are born with cleft," he said.

Meanwhile, celebrations have begun in Pinki's village Rampur Dhavaia in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Pinki's mother Shimla Devi, uncle Mithai Lal Sonkar and other relatives watched the Oscar ceremony live on the only television set in the village at the home of a retired government official.

'Huge procession'

"The news has been received with much joy," Mithai Lal Sonkar told the BBC.

"The villagers marched in a huge procession, there were 500 to 600 people, there was drum beating and the crowds chanted 'Bharat mata ki jai' [Long live Mother India]."

"The head of the village council has brought sweets and Pinki's mother has gone to the Shiva temple for thanksgiving."

Director Megan Mylan and Dr Subodh Kumar Singh
The award has been welcomed by campaigners

He said the villagers had organised two days of prayers at the Shiva temple to pray for Pinki's victory.

Born with a cleft lip in an impoverished family, Pinki spent the first few years of her life in abject misery.

Before the surgery, Pinki was shunned and teased by the children in her village.

"Everyone called me hothkati [the girl with the torn lip]," Pinki told the BBC earlier in February.

"I would feel very bad. I would feel hurt and get very angry. Sometimes I would abuse them. Now no one calls me a hothkati. They all call me Pinki," she said.

But post-Oscar, Pinki is a big star.

"We are all waiting for her to return from LA, then we will have real celebrations," her uncle said.

The award has also been welcomed by campaigners.

"Most people are unaware that cleft can be corrected and that too, totally free," Satish Kalra, South Asia director of global cleft charity Smile Train, told the BBC.

"This Oscar will create tremendous awareness about cleft, how it can be fixed, how a child will look post surgery. And even if 1% of the four million cleft patients go for surgery after this film, it will mean 40,000 people.

"Can you imagine any other Oscar which has transformed the lives of so many people? I am absolutely delighted by the award," he said.

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