Over the last few weeks, we’ve read with horror all the reports of what has befallen some of the young stars of Slumdog Millionaire in the wake of the film’s Oscar wins. (Though things are, thankfully, starting to look up.) So we thought we should bring you news of something good that has happened to the Indian children at the center of a heartwarming and inspirational Oscar winner. That film, however, is not Slumdog but Smile Pinki, the winner of the Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar, which premieres on HBO tonight.
Director Megan Mylan’s film looks at the efforts of a social worker who travels to poor villages in India finding children with cleft lips and arranging for them to receive surgery. (Many don’t realize that cleft lips can be fixed with a simple operation.) Smile Pinki focuses specifically on two children: 5-year-old Pinki and 11-year-old Ghutaru. The film follows their journeys and ends with them cured not only of their clefts, but of the painful social ostracism that resulted from their conditions, which could prevent them from even going to school.
Mylan happily reports that the kids are now doing great. As a result of the film’s success, Pinki and Ghutaru met lots of Bollywood stars and politicians, and even got a parade of marigolds upon their return home. She adds that Pinki’s village was made a model village by her district. “They put corrugated metal roof houses in, to withstand the monsoon rains. They got an electrified water pump, so they can get fresh water.” And within six months, Pinki and Gujaru got scholarships to go to better schools.
Smile Pinki is a devastating and accomplished film in its own right, but Slumdog’s coattails certainly helped: “There was tremendous excitement about the film in India because of Slumdog Millionaire,” Mylan says. “Because there were two films about India that were contending at the Oscars this year, so whenever TV and print pieces talked about Slumdog, they talked about our film as well.”