On Wednesday, HBO will air the Academy Award-winning short documentary Smile Pinky, the story of two Indian children whose cleft lips are repaired by the charity Smile Train. Director Megan Mylan says such exposure can translate into aid for thousands of children.
Smile Pinky is about five-year-old Pinky and 11-year-old Ghutaru, who live in rural India and are ostracized and ridiculed because of their cleft lips. Nearly 4 millions children around the world have cleft palates, which can be repaired in an hour-long procedure that costs about $250. In the U.S. the condition is usually repaired before children are three months old, while in poor countries children usually deal with the condition for the rest of their lives, according to The Non-Profit Times.
The American charity Smile Train pays local doctors in 75 developing countries to perform surgeries to correct cleft palates at no cost to the child's family. Smile Train co-founder and president Brain Mullaney said in the past decade awareness has been the organization's biggest problem, so three years ago they came up with the idea of making a film about their work. They chose Mylan, who directed The Lost Boys of Sudan, to direct the film Smile Pinky.
The charity has already made back more money than was put into the film, and after it won this year's Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, the organization received more publicity than ever before. The traffic on Smile Train's website doubled after the Oscars, and online donations doubled for a week and a half after the win. "Every Oscar changes a career. This Oscar can change millions of lives. Our goal now is to turn this Oscar into a million smiles," said Mullaney.
In the film, Pinki travels three hours on foot with her father to the G.S. Memorial Hospital in Banaras after hearing about the free surgery from a social worker who visited her village. Pinky's life changed dramatically not only because her surgery was successful, but because of the fame the film brought her. She and her father attended the Oscars with Mylan, the Los Angeles Times reports. "She and I walked down the red carpet holding hands — I said, if you get nervous squeeze my hand and I'll squeeze yours," said Mylan. "We kept squeezing." Pinky met the stars of Slumdog Millionaire Anil Kapoor and Iffran Khan, who were seated a few rows behind her, and had them translate into Hindi when Mylan asked if she wanted to go sit with her dad.
Like the Slumdog stars, Pinky has become a celebrity back home too. She and her surgeon, Dr. Sudbodh Kumar Singh, met with the Indian prime minister's wife and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai. Pinky's family got a new house, her village was given a new well, and soon the town will get electricity and a paved road. Both Pinky and Ghutaru received scholarships to better schools.
The film reaching millions of HBO subscribers in its initial airing tomorrow, and then in many repeats throughout the month, will likely bring in many more donations to Smile Train. "You're always sort of hoping this will happen, but it's never a guarantee," said Mylan. "Documentaries need what studio commercial films have: They need publicity and distribution, but then they just go on and on." The new donations have already given many people working with Smile Train hope that they can provide operations to the 1 million Indian children still living with a cleft. Dr. Singh said the film is, "bringing so much good for so many children. They are all getting treatment because of her. . . . If we do 100,000 a year, we can clear it out [in India] in 10 years."
Smile Pinky premieres on June 3 at 7pm (ET/PT). We will be watching on Wednesday night and posting about the film on Thursday. Check out the trailer below: