Smile Pinki (review)

If you could use some good news — and who couldn’t? — then you’ll want to see “Smile Pinki,” this year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short debuting tonight on HBO at 7pm Eastern. It’s all good news, of the simple, honest, hardworking, getting-things-accomplished, helping-people-who-need-it type. Social worker Pankaj travels around rural India passing out flyers for the extraordinary service provided by the G.S. Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital in the city of Banaras: free surgery — completely free — for children born with cleft lips and palates, a common birth defect, and one easily repaired, but beyond the reach of the very poor (who, ironically, are more prone to have children with clefts, which may be caused by prenatal malnutrition — some of the children we see here have multiple clefts, far more disfiguring problems than I was even previously aware of). Megan Mylan (Lost Boys of Sudan), following Pankaj on his rounds, introduces us to sweet-faced, ponytailed Pinki, who’s five, and shy 11-year-old Ghutaru, both suffering from clefts, and their families, and seeing how kids and parents alike are transformed by the unexpected generosity, the kindness of the doctors, and the small wonder of their surgeries is deeply moving. It’s a welcome and necessary reminder that making the world a better place doesn’t require miracles but a merely a series of small, simple steps. (If you’d like to donate to the charity that pays for these surgeries all over the world, please visit smiletrain.org. All revenue generated by the film goes to Smile Train.)

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