PAKISTAN-BORN British plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Jawad is the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, and the hero in acid burn victim Zakia’s life. Times of India chats with the ‘saviour’.

Standing nose-to-nose with an acid burn survivor doesn’t scare Dr Mohammad Jawad. An Oscar does.

The London-based plastic surgeon of Pakistani origin has inspired Saving Face, a 2012 Academy Award nominee for Documentary (Short). “Numbed. Shocked. Worried,” he said about his reaction to the nomination news.

Directed by Emmy Award-winning Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge, the film speaks for acid attack survivors in Pakistan - most of them women - whom conservative estimates put at 150 a year. Zakia, then, is just a number. The 39-year-old from Southern Punjab, who sits in Dr Jawad’s clinic in one of the early shots in the film, had acid hurled at her, which left her without an eye and half a nose, and trapped in her home or behind a head-to-toe hijab and black glasses, in case she ever decided to step out.

But ‘giving up was not an option’, said the surgeon, who rebuilt Zakia’s face - using Matriderm, a synthetic skin substitute - and fractured confidence through a process that spanned three long stages. “We wrapped up last August. It’s not perfect, but it has restored her physical self to a decent standard. The psychological healing will take longer,” said Dr Jawad, who admitted to having played shrink, sympathiser and friend to survivors.

For the last four years, he has divided his time between London, where he works for the National Health Service, and the Indus Hospital in his hometown, Karachi, where he treats acid victims pro bono. “I’d use my annual leave for it. Besides, my mother was not very well at the time, and I wanted to visit her as often as I could,” said the son of a middle-class family involved in the manufacture of readymade garments.

His time back home has made him question the role of women in Pakistani society, where he said, men consider it their right to treat women as property. Rukhsana, another patient, had no choice but to continue to live with her husband and in-laws, the perpetrators of a gasoline attack on her. In a poignant moment in the film, Rukhsana confides, “I hope my child is a boy, because a girl’s future gets risky after marriage.” Her wish came true and she named her son after Jawad.

Saving Face is witness to not just physical change, but legal too. In May last year, a historic bill was passed in the Pakistan National Assembly. “Whoever victimises someone through the use of corrosive substance shall be punished with life imprisonment or imprisonment of either description which shall not be less than 14 years and a minimum fine of one million rupees,” read the newly introduced section 336B that amended the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1908.

Zakia found strength in a lawyer who took up her case pro bono, and watched her husband receive two life sentences. It’s fitting, then, that co-director Chinoy calls this a work of hope.