29 Sep 2012

Nip, tuck Kabul

Afghanistan is not usually associated with cosmetic surgery and freedom of choice, but that is exactly what filmmakers found in a small Kabul clinic. Leslie Knott and Clementine Malpas report.

With Nip Tuck Kabul we tried to provide a view of Afghanistan rarely seen. It’s an intimate look at the women and men who choose to have cosmetic surgery in a small clinic in Kabul. Nose jobs, tummy tucks, cheek implants – it’s a growing phenomenon amongst middle class Afghans – children of the post-Taliban world.

We thought it would take weeks to gain access to the clinic and patients, but along with colleague Lianne Gutcher, we soon realised the women and men wanted to talk to us about why they had chosen to change their looks.

One woman saved for months to get a nose like Angelina Jolie. We met girls in their early 20s who had fled abusive marriages and wanted to have surgery to boost their confidence and take control of their appearance. We also met women who were seemingly under pressure to have surgery. Mrs Zalmai’s husband was with her at all times, reassuring her that this was the right thing to do.

Under pressure

“It wasn’t my idea to do this. It was my husband’s,” Mrs Zalmai told us. “He’s been telling me to have this surgery done ever since we got married four years ago.”

But he disagreed: “I didn’t force her to have a nose oepration. I simpy told her that if her nose were smaller it would look much prettier. It was a joint decision to have the operation.”

We also met a 20-year-old woman called Parwin who worked with an non-governmental organisation in Kabul. She saved up enough money to undergo a double rib/rhinoplasty operation.

Freedom of choice

“God may have made me ugly, but I don’t have to stay that way,” she said.

We started off doing this story for a newspaper, but it seemed it would be best told through film so as to really capture the story of characters who were heading to Dr Hamkar’s clinic and the staff who worked there. It was a secretive world that few knew about or imagined existed. We soon realised that what we were witnessing at this cosmetic surgery clinic was about much more than beauty and vanity. It was a social commentary on the choices that Afghan women and men are free to make.

The film was made in Afghanistan by Liane Gutcher, Leslie Knott and Clementine Malpas. Produced and directed by Teresa Smith and reported by Kylie Morris in London.