Wearing an intricately embroidered red salwar kameez,her hair in a neat ponytail,Pinki Sonkar walked the red carpet clutching the Oscar statuette in one hand and holding her fathers hand with the other. Displaying the poise of a filmstar,the eight-year-old girl from Mirzapur,Uttar Pradesh,on whose life the Oscar-winning documentary Smile Pinki is based,avoided direct eye contact with the sea of flashing cameras.
Accompanying her was the cast of the 40-minute documentary,including her father Rajendra Sonkar and surgeon Dr Subodh Kumar Singh,who shared their emotions on being part of one of the greatest shows on earth,with well-wishers at the India Habitat Centre on Friday.
Oblivious to the chaos surrounding her,Pinki kept admiring the replica of the award,gifted to her by Smile Pinki director Megan Mylan from a Los Angeles souvenir shop for $5 as she missed out on the actual Oscar ceremony. Pinki walked the red carpet but went back to her hotel room soon after to sleep she was very tired, said Singh,who performed the life-altering 45-minute surgery on Pinki.
Singh is the face of a team of trained plastic surgeons who operate on children suffering from cleft lips in India under the global charity called Smile Train. The surgery has made her more confident; Pinki has developed her own personality, he said,trying to keep Pinki engaged in the conversation.
Pinki might not understand the significance of the award,and how much she contributed in the win,but she kept repeating a line: It is a major award and friends in my school will be overjoyed that I got back this award.
I hadnt been to America before. I was overawed by the stream of flashlights on the Oscars red carpet. It was a wonderful feeling to be there, she added,before hiding coyly behind her father. Though she did not attend the award ceremony,Pinki accompanied Singh and Mylan to the post-awards Vanity Fair party where she was congratulated by the cast of Slumdog Millionaire and a host of Hollywood celebrities. People came up to me and had pictures clicked. I do not know who they are but they were really nice people.
Pinki is currently attending the local village school that she started going to after her surgery in March 2007. I will become a doctor like Singh-uncle when I grow up, she said.
Life,however,has not changed significantly after the ceremony neither has any monetary assistance come her way yet. We are a small charity and cannot afford to fund her education, Singh said. She means a lot to us and we pray that the government takes up her cause and funds her education.
In a couple of days,Pinki will return to her village in Mirzapur to her new home allotted recently under a government housing scheme. I have not seen my new home, she said,and then smiled,but I have heard from my mother it is beautiful. For the first time I will sleep on a bed and there will be electricity in my house.
Something more to cheer about.