Adoption journey emotions run high

Saira Khan and family Happy families: Saira Khan and husband Steve with baby Amara and son Zac

Stealing any show from Saira Khan takes some doing, but in Adopting Abroad: Saira's Story - baby Amara is surely the real sta

First-series Apprentice runner-up Saira is the subject of a two-part observational documentary that charts the journey she undertook to adopt Amara from Pakistan. Executive producer Ninder Billing describes the 2 x 60 minute films as extraordinary pieces of television.

'The access is astonishingly intimate,' she says.

Producer/director Pamela Gordon, cameraman Brendan Easton and AP Mobeen Azhar spent more than a year with Saira, filming the arduous UK adoption process before travelling to Pakistan, where they captured the extraordinary moments in which the fortunes of baby Amara, abandoned at Karachi's Edhi Foundation orphanage, change forever.

Start Quote

Saira has attracted hostility from Islamic factions in the past and we had a newborn in the mix,”

End Quote Ninder Billing executive producer

The films, edited by Paul Carlin, mark a ground-breaking venture for in-house factual. 'Pakistan is a hostile environment, Saira has attracted hostility from Islamic factions in the past and we had a newborn in the mix,' says Ninder. 'There were several tense meeting with the High Risk team before the project got off the ground.'

Brilliant idea for a film

The idea for the documentary was Mobeen's. He and Saira had stayed in touch after travelling across Pakistan together in 2007, filming Saira Khan's Pakistan Adventure. At that time, Saira and husband Steve were trying for a baby. Zac was born in 2008 after IVF treatment, but a further cycle failed. Chatting with Mobeen one afternoon three years later, she mentioned the Edhi Foundation where they'd filmed for the travelogue.

'It had stayed in both of our memories,' says Mobeen. 'But when she floated the idea of adopting from there, I thought what a brilliant film that would make.'

After six months' working with UK social services (a process that Pamela describes as rather like going into an intense type of therapy), the team flew to Karachi with Saira.

The call they were waiting for came just six days after they arrived.

'Saira didn't even have a bottle ready, so the hotel sterilised one for her,' said Pamela. 'She grabbed some nappies and we raced to the orphanage. We were all in shock, from that point on.'

Heart beat

Saira froze at the top of the orphanage steps, suddenly doubtful she could go ahead, but the moment was short lived. The team waited with her, camera on a wide shot of the room, unsure of when and from where the baby would be brought in. 'The staff were so relaxed because they hand over babies all the time,' remembers Pamela, 'but I could hear my own heart beating.'

The door opened and a nurse carrying a tiny bundle in a pink blanket crossed the room towards them.

'You're opened up, your emotions are totally visible,' she continues. 'I have never cried when I'm filming before, but me, Mobeen and Brendan were all in tears.'

Ninder, who has watched the moment dozens of times in the edit, says the impact never seems to wear off.

'It's so powerful, it still makes me tear up,' she says.

At the time, Saira herself was outwardly less emotional - absorbed with concern for the tiny girl who'd been placed in her arms. Her priority was to get her to a hospital where, in Pamela's words: 'It all kicked off.'

'The doctor says that she's not newborn but at least three days old and has never been fed,' she says. 'She was in fact terribly poorly and dehydrated, and spent six days in intensive care.'

The lost few days and the fact that nobody will ever know what happened to Amara's birth mother are crucial to the strong, conflicting emotions that the film inspires.

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I carried Amara across the arrivals hall at Heathrow. Then the Khans went their way and I went mine. ”

End Quote Mobeen Azhar assistant producer
Sadness and joy

'Saira and Steve are both very conscious that somewhere in Karachi is a mother who has given away her baby and knows nothing of what we can see,' she says. 'I hope the film reflects that. We have a beautiful sequence of Saira holding Amara, looking out over the city. You can't help thinking Amara's lucky, but it's about acknowledging the sadness as well as the joy.'

The adoption paperwork took three months to complete and the team, except for Mobeen, flew home. They returned for a visit with Steve and Zac, to film the family meeting for the first time. For Mobeen, who'd spent so long with Saira and Amara, coming home meant a sad goodbye.

'I carried Amara across the arrivals hall at Heathrow,' he says. 'Then the Khans went their way and I went mine. It seems a crazy experience now - to go to Pakistan and come back with a film and a baby.'

The story ends on an upbeat with Amara meeting her grandparents at home in Oxford.

Adopting Abroad; Saira's Story, BBC Two, Sep 6 and 8

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