Dhadak or Sairat ?

Hindi movie in theatre with Dolby Surround or Marathi movie at home with subtitles?

With the buzz around Dhadak getting deafening by the minute, I thought it wouldn’t be fair to watch it without first watching the original Marathi movie, ‘Sairat’. And after watching it I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want to see what khichadi KJo is going to cook out of this. This story simply cannot be redone in a stylised urban setting.

I think countless Hindi movies have been made on similar themes but none hits you in the gut like ‘Sairat’ does. The only recent Hindi movie which comes somewhat near in comparison is Habib Faisal’s 2012 movie, ‘Ishaqzaade’. It explores the Hindu Muslim antipathy in the same way as ‘Sairat’ lays threadbare caste politics in the village of Bittergaon. This movie belongs to Rinku Rajguru , the Marathi actress who plays Archie ( short for Archana) in the film. She is the ‘hero’ of this movie and blows us away with her kickass performance. The story takes you through the familiar ride of adolescent love which doesn’t pay heed to their difference in status. In one telling scene , a newly joined male class teacher reprimands a senior boy (Archie’s brother) for talking into his mobile during class. The boy coolly cuts the call and gives the class teacher a slap on his face and walks away. The same evening the principal and the class teacher go to the boy’s home. They both stand deferentially before the boy’s father who smiles forgivingly and tells the principal in a kindly tone, “ You should introduce him to all your students. Didn’t he know he was my son?” It’s stunning moments like this that make this movie a classic.

See it before Dhadak releases. Why go for the duplicate when you can see the original?

Pic below is a still from the movie where Archie comes to college riding a Bullet.

Dhadak or Sairat?

Sairat ! Sairat ! Sairat !

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The MOST foolish thing

It was raining cats and dogs that evening. The 7 year old was inconsolable. “ It was really foolish of me . I shouldn’t have done it ..” she kept repeating this again and again, her eyes welling up with tears. She is a kid who takes everything her mother says very seriously. She doodles on her notepad and glares sullenly at silver slanting slopes of rain beating down viciously into the red soil from her study window. Her gaze is fierce and self absorbed. Her mother hovers around doing this and that. Sensing the stormy thoughts buzzing through her daughter’s mind she decides to try and lighten the mood by telling her a story from her childhood. Of the most foolish thing she, her mother, did as a kid. Her mother being a bit of a colossal fool had many incidents to choose from , but she decides to tell her about just one.

“ I must have been 7. My brother 4. The girl next door was 6. We were at her place, the house in the next lane, to play as usual. But visitors had arrived and had parked their car right in the middle of our cricket pitch. Two other kids , aged 6 and 9 had also turned up to play. The one aged 9 , was our ringleader. As our pitch was unfairly occupied we elected to play Blind man’s bluff“

“ Amma! What’s the big deal? It’s not exactly such an unsafe thing to blindfold someone.”

“It is if you decide to play on the terrace of your friend’s one storey house. “

“ What ?! “ gasped the 7 year old. Her woes were forgotten now. The mother was secretly pleased that her daughter had sensed it was a foolish thing to do. On prodding, she continued.

“ They realised it was dangerous as the terrace walls were low so they improvised by bringing in a rule of another game. If the blindfolded person walked close to a terrace wall we would shout out Cold. And if she walked away from it we would shout out Hot. So the ringleader said she would go first. We blindfolded her, twirled her around and hooted with laughter as she tried to catch us. The Hot Cold warnings helped keep her away from harms way. But 10 minutes into the game she started feeling annoyed as she hadn’t caught anyone. She suspected us of bluffing on the Hot Cold warnings and suddenly started doing just the opposite. She would dart purposely when it was Cold, going dangerously close to the terrace wall. At one point we four all screamed out Cold together, but she was certain we were doing it to trick her . She continued moving recklessly towards the edge. ‘Cold’ we screamed , the blood in our veins freezing into ice . But it was too late. Before our eyes she toppled across the wall and fell face down into the cemented floor. A kid with a broken bleeding nose was rushed away to emergency care”.

“ She died?!”

“Luckily the fall was short. She escaped with only a fractured nose. “

“ Did they fix it back?”

“ The doctors managed to do that.”

“ Did you get a scolding?”

“Well, I was the seniormost among the remaining kids, so guess who got scolded the most?”

“ Oh no.”

“ Your blunder doesn’t seem so foolish now, does it?”

The 7 year old gives her mother a watery smile. The angry clouds of self castigation seem to have drifted away. “You are right, Amma. That was an extraordinarily foolish thing to do.”

“ Not easy to beat that, huh?”

She grins. “It’s tough “.

Image courtesy: Blind man’s bluff by NataliaRak on Deviant Art.

Sanju

Why would someone want to make a biopic on Sanjay Dutt? This kept bothering me, everytime a ‘Sanju’ trailer/preview kept popping up in my newsfeed and I started digging into my memory to see if he had done anything noteworthy. He did guns, drugs, a bunch of actresses and a few memorable roles. Like it or not you can’t forget his boyish grin during the Choli ke peeche song. His role in Saajan had a generation of young men growing shoulder length hair. Munnabhai MBBS had a funny script if you closed your eyes to bloopers like Boman Irani teaching anatomy in one class,then doing surgery in another. But does all this really merit a biopic ? One argument is that his life is interesting because of his bad boy image. The link to terrorist attacks, the affairs with reigning actresses, the politician cum actor Dad…make for passable plot points. But from what I read these portions have been treated tenderly as if ghostscripted by the bad boy with a heart of gold, himself. A bit on the lines of how ‘ Azhar‘, another eminently forgettable biopic was taken. The problem is that this movie will become a hit solely because of Raju Hirani and Ranbir Kapoor. And this is going to spawn a new movie genre- Celebrity biopics. The star kids, the matchfixers , the black buck hunters , the bruised egos, all get to tell their own sob story.

Iruvar is easily one of the best biopics made on an actor. Watching the movie is a bit like watching history unfold before your eyes. The central subject was an interesting one and the director was the one and only Mani Ratnam. Can a Sanjay Dutt match the flamboyance of an MGR? Or the cult following of a Rajnikant? And if it’s bad boy stuff that makes for interesting story lines then the the bad boys (macho misogynist megalomaniacs ,rather) here down South in the sari folds of AMMA don’t believe in sugarcoating scripts or airbrushing skit dialogues. No room for niceties here. They flaunt their chauvinism and strut it out on stage. Bollywood should take their Southern cousins more seriously, me thinks. The truly, deadly screenplay material lies here , hidden in translation.

It was a dark & stormy night..

It was a dark and stormy night. I’m holed up in a 5 star hotel room in a faraway town amidst the sound of pounding rain. I’m an invited speaker and my lecture is next morning. In the room adjacent to mine is housed a pest. A co-faculty who is a bit overawed at being in a 5 star hotel in an unfamiliar place. I had an inkling of trouble brewing ahead when soon after checking in she messages me on my mobile. ‘Teabags, Pepsi and all these creamers, will they charge us for it if we take it?’ I roll up my eyes and muster as much cheer as I can by throwing in an emoji or two. ‘Don’t touch the Pepsi and the peanuts. As for the rest , it’s all free , free , free!!’ I can hear a whoop of joy across the thin walls of the hotel room and she texts back, ‘Appol kudichchu marikkyam alle?’. I smile at her unbridled enthusiasm to drink and die on 5 star sachet tea coffees and get back to pruning my PowerPoint. A few more whatsapp texts come pouring in. ‘ Is the water free? But it’s written 60Rs. Is the wi-fi free only for this room . Will it be charged if I come to your room?’ I patiently answer all the queries sitting at the bay window watching the lashing rain. I can’t help wondering gloomily if the next request will be to come over to my room. The rumble of thunder echoes my thoughts and the next message blinks into my face. ‘Ma’am, I’m scared sitting here all alone. Can I shift into your room for the night?’ I think of ignoring this. How gauche can one get? I was looking forward to an indulgent evening with a long bath in the bathtub. Lightning flashes zig zag through the sky. I text beck evasively, ‘ I tend to snore sometimes’. She enthusiastically texts back- ‘Not to worry, not only do i snore , i sleep talk too’. I sigh and start thinking, it’s a large room with a big bed and tomorrow we are leaving anyway. My conscience pricks and I message her to shift right in.

I’m done with my PowerPoint now and she wants to have a look at it, so I carefully save a copy of the ppt ( in my pendrive) in case she messes up with this one . I hand her the laptop and excuse myself for the next hour or so for my beauty bath. I step into the bathtub trying not to think of Sridevi. I’m busy figuring out what all these soaps and salts and emollients are for. Soon I’m blowing bubbles and I start playing around with the myriad buttons on the panel. I press some curiously named ones- rain, sizzle, steam . One round button labelled ‘dissolve’ catches my eye. I press it and wait to see what happens. And Hey Presto! the opaque glass wall by the side of my tub dissolves into a steamy transparency and then into a crystal clear gigantic floor to ceiling glass wall. I recoil back in horror as I can see right into the bedroom now. My roommate is at the desk , her back facing me, sipping the last of my teabag and creamers while carefully perusing my PowerPoint. I frantically jab multiple times at the panel button again. With each frantic jab the wall slowly changes to a smokescreen, becomes opaque and then slowly dissolves again . I note with a spiralling sense of panic that she has reached the thank you page of my PowerPoint . I take a deep breath , calm my racing heart and press it one last time. Firmly , decisively , with a trembling finger. The screen silently dissolves back into its opaque dull jade sheen. I spend the next couple of minutes steadying my nerves before I step out. I peep into the room. My unwelcome companion is sound asleep. As I snuggle below the covers I note with satisfaction that she has occupied the cornermost edge of the bed.I can’t help thinking that if I had had a heart attack in there, my unexplainable death would have been not too different from the cloud of mystery surrounding a certain filmstar’s demise. Next morning when I get up I’m surprised to see her all dressed and ready. She explains that she got up early so that when I get up the bathroom will be free for me. I smile guiltily. As I get out of the bathroom I see that she has prepared a steaming hot cup of tea for me with generous amount of milk creamer. As we sip our morning cup of tea in the rainswept balcony she confesses that this is her first time in a 5 star hotel room and apologises for the intrusion into my private space. “You must be thinking I’m such a country bumpkin “, she says with a laugh. I join in and regale her with an anecdote of another country bumpkin- a friend of mine who didn’t know what the ‘dissolve ‘ switch in the bath panel was for. 😉

#itwasadarkandstormynight

Pic courtesy: https://in.pinterest.com/

Recalling Names

A small family get together at Kumarakom. As a kind of ploy to inculcate interest in disparate, distant , disjointed members of the family tree, my uncle had put up a message in our Kottarathil family whatsapp group mentioning that there will be various ‘sessions’ by experts. I find my name on that list of experts. Name of the session: ‘How to convert even your husband’s sneeze into a splendid narrative ‘. 😏

Now, what I dread most about these gettogethers is the question, “ Enne ormaundo , molle?”. I used to counter it with a breezy “ Pinne” . But I stopped doing that after one cunning old aunt asked me to explain how exactly I was related to her.

Things wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for my parents. When I’m busily trying to melt into the background, my Dad will drag some unsuspecting relative by the elbow and ask me, “ Do you know who this is?”. As if !!

My Mum on the other hand has the memory of an ant. Forget names of relatives, at times she can’t even remember MY name. I end up responding to names of her sisters, nieces and granddaughters. I’ve got so used to this, that it doesn’t seem abnormal anymore. It’s a bit like mentally correcting autocorrect blunders on Whatsapp.

After the initial round of introductions there is a game to break the ice. We are divided into two groups . The hubby along with my little one, Becka are in the opposite group . My elder one , Rahel and my Mum are in my group. Each person in the two groups is assigned a secret number. Mine is 9. A bed sheet is held up like a curtain between the two groups and when your number is called out, you will have to run to the front. The bedsheet curtain is dropped and you have to name the other person before he/ she names you. Now this sounds quite simple, but in reality it’s not that easy. I look wearily at my group. Not too many bright bulbs here. Mummy was our Achilles heel. There was no way she would call out the right name. But to my surprise , when her turn comes she calls it out correctly with gusto. Things are evenly matched and both teams are running neck to neck. Only one more number to be called and that is 9 and that will decide the winner. By the process of elimination I have figured out that 9 is possibly Malavika, a distant niece. I’m all poised to run in , shout Malavika , and claim the trophy for my team. Rahel, my elder one, is frantically whispering something into my ear, but I shrug her off. I need to focus. There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. The number 9 is called out, I rush to the front as the bed sheet is pulled down. And I freeze. For number 9 from the other team is Becka! I’m thinking Malavika , but my mind autocorrects it in time, and in the frenzy to win, I call out “Rahel!!”, to my own utter astonishment. There is stunned silence for a second. And then the hall erupts into laughter. Rahel is rolling on the floor. The hubby is howling with laughter.Becka is giving a triumphant, ‘I made Amma lose’ evil guffaw. Everyone is laughing. I look sideways, even my mother is. Though i note, a little sympathetically. I give her a wry smile and decide to be a little less scornful of her name recalling blunders in future.

Memento Mori

I look into the microscope and fiddle with the fine adjustment.Haphazard ducts and angry cells stare back at me. No mistaking this. Metastatic carcinoma breast- high grade. I look at the age on the request form. It is a lady of my exact age. I close my eyes for a second as i compose myself to mechanically write the report . At that very split second, the thought which crosses my mind is this.

This could have been me.

My technician comes in with the next set of slides. She is visibly upset.She shows me a family photograph on her mobile. It is of a young girl with her husband and two sons. She is the young nurse who was posted in the Medicine ICU at Calicut. She had succumbed to her death while caring for the sick Nipah virus victims. “She was only 31”, she explains. I gravely nod my head and wonder how old my tech is. She too has two small kids. Is a health professional. The identical demographic.

A friend texts in the middle of work. This is unusual, she rarely texts. She is much older than me. 50 years.

‘I just attended a funeral’.

‘Oh, someone close?’

‘A friend’s brother.’

‘How did he die?’

‘Road accident. He was 53.’

‘Ohhh, 53 is too young’, I text back.

‘So is 50′, she replies absentmindedly.

#

She walked through the dimly lit corridors of the Munster Cathedral . It was an imposing structure, made entirely of red sandstone, one of the places of architectural interest in Basel. She stopped to look at one of the artefacts. It was a skull in wrought iron placed on a stool. An unlikely object to find in a cathedral, she thought. A young priest in black robes, who was on his way out ,stopped to greet her. She asks him,

“What is this meant to be?’’

‘‘ It is a Memento Mori . A death mask to remind you of your mortality. A reminder, that you too will die one day’’, he replied gaily.

She said,’’ Oh, what is the origin of this term. Is it Latin?’’

‘’Yes. It’s a Latin expression meaning, Remember that you have to die”.

He continued, “It originates from a practice common in Ancient Rome. After battle , when a victorious general would come back home to a rousing hero’s welcome parade, he ran the risk of falling victim to haughtiness and delusions of grandeur; to avoid it, a slave stationed behind him would say “Respice post te. Hominem te memento” ( “Look after you [to the time after your death] and remember, you’re [only] a man.”).

She smiled and thanked him and walked till reached the portion behind the cathedral where there was a canopy of trees, a few benches. This overlooked a stunning view of the city of Basel . She so badly wanted a photograph of herself here, against the arresting skyline, but there was no one she could ask except a Swiss couple on the park bench who were coiled around each other like a DNA helix. She sighed and trained her camera lens on the little sailing boats that bobbed down the river Rhine thinking of the Memento Mori’s in her life.

When someone your own age dies, it is a Reminder – a Memento Mori- that life is fleeting and that one day, we too will die.

An Unassuming Hero

Before I joined medicine, I had a romantic notion of death.

Death for me was the girl in Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’. I longed to be her, loved and revered , preserved in my lover’s memory like a hard-pressed dry rose in the pages of his mind.

Death for me was the image of the doomed star crossed lovers of ‘Ek Duje ke Liye’ caught in a Rigor Mortis like embrace till eternity.

Death was Rajesh Khanna’s disembodied voice speaking from the whirring record player . “Ae Babu Moshai, Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath hai. Usse na aap badal sakte hain na main”

By the end of my MBBS course, the rose tinted glasses were thrown off.

For more frightening than Death, was Life itself.

Life with bed sores.

Life with pain that cut through like a searing knife into the bone.

Life with no sensation below the neck downwards.

Life with a sick child and financial burdens.

Life with the sheer helplessness of chronic, endless pain.

An incident etched into my mind , is an encounter with one of our Prof’s at Calicut Railway station. We were both waiting for the Kannur expresss which was one hour late. Professor M R Rajagopal, the then Head of Anaesthesia was travelling to Trivandrum to visit his parents. I was on my way to spend the weekend with my grandfather at Kottayam. We were already well acquainted as I was one of the compere’s for an Anaesthesia conference on Palliative Care held the previous year. (I was invariably selected for such jobs as I was one among the few Malayali’s who could pronounce memento as memento , and not mOmento.) We soon got chatting and I asked sir what made him take up Anaesthesia. Wouldn’t Surgery or Medicine have been a more aspirational choice? He smiled and said, “ Well , back in my days there was no choosing a speciality. I was attending an interview for provisional lecturer post in Calicut medical college , when the Principal asked me which speciality I was interested in. I eagerly told him I was ready to take up any clinical speciality , except Anaesthesia .

I asked, “ And then?”

In a deadpan voice he said, “ The Principal, immediately assigned me Anaesthesia.”

“But why did he do that?”

“Well Priya, he was that kind of a man”,he said with a dry chuckle.

I digested this piece of information with a smile. For Sir is one of the stalwarts in the field of Anaesthesia , a pioneer in setting up Pain & Palliative care in Kerala. The trilingual announcement came booming up. The train was another 15 minutes late. So I continued with my questioning, and asked him what made him foray into Palliative medicine. He told me an incident of a college professor aged 42 with cancer of the tongue who had been referred to him by an oncologist. The man was in severe pain and sir, the anaesthetist, was asked if he could help. He injected a numbing substance into the man’s mandibular nerve, located in the jaw, in a procedure known as a “nerve block,” and told the patient to return in 24 hours. The next day, the pain had almost completely subsided and sir was pleased with his work.

“He asked me when he should come back. I told him there was no need to come back, unless the pain returned. I thought he would be happy I had cured the pain.

Instead, he went home and killed himself that night.”

I looked at him, stunned with dismay. It turned out that the oncologist had avoided explaining to the college professor that his cancer was terminal. Instead, he had said he was referring him to the anaesthetist for further treatment.

“It was only when I told him there was no need to come back that he realized his cancer was incurable. He went home and told his family it was all over.” Sir adjusted his spectacles back into the crook of his nose and quietly said, “I had not bothered to find out about the human being, about his feelings… The incident triggered me to look outside of pain, to look at the person as a whole.”

The train soon came chugging into the station and we went our separate ways to find our respective bogies. My next interaction with Sir was during housesurgeoncy. We had a one week posting in Palliative care as part of our curriculum. During our classes, Sir narrated another incident. He was looking after a patient with a gangrenous toe who was in excruciating pain. “I asked my head of department if I could try a nerve block. He refused – it was not part of routine care and there was a shortage of anesthetists.” He paused and said, “I had to tell the man there was nothing I could do. I still remember the look of hopelessness on his face.” Later, when he became head of department at Calicut, there was no one to tell him what he could and couldn’t do. That is how he came to treat the college professor. But his patient’s suicide showed him that treating the pain was not enough. “I realized that thinking about nerve blocks was too narrow. Pain is just the visible part of the iceberg of suffering. What is ignored is the part below the surface – feelings of hopelessness and despair, worries about money, about children. That is what palliative care is about. That man gave up his life to help me understand it.”

In 1993, after he had attended a course run by an English nurse, Gilly Burns ,he with his colleagues Dr Suresh Kumar and Mr Ashok Kumar, established the Pain and Palliative Care Society in Calicut . “Six of us put in 250 rupees each. We found two volunteers, Meena and Lissy, young women with children at school, to register patients and sit and talk to them. Then I would come after work to see them. It very quickly got attention. In the hospital, we were working in a sea of suffering. But in the clinic, you could see people smiling, talking, finding comfort.”

There was a limitation, however. It was exposed early on when a young man came begging for help for his mother, who was in severe pain. She lived in a remote spot where there was no road and could not be moved. When the man was told that the doctors could not prescribe without seeing the patient, he broke down in tears. Mr Ashok told him , “ We shall come to your home”, and made that trip happen. That trip was the first home visit. Gradually demand increased. Then someone donated a vehicle. It soon developed into a full fledged home visit programme with trained doctors making their way to bed-ridden patients, often in far-flung rural areas and sometimes in neighbourhoods in their own cities. It wasn’t only for terminally ill cancer patients. It extended help to diabetics, stroke patients, paralysed accident victims. “We help people live at home and die at home. Most want that,” said Rajagopal sir.

Another hurdle he had to face was the availability of Morphine- the opioid drug notorious for its addictive properties, but the strongest and most effective medicine for pain relief. As a drug , Morphine was easy and cheap to produce. Back then it was not the cost that restricted access, but the law. Morphine had been highly restricted in India since 1985. As a result, of this archaic law two generations of doctors and nurses had grown up without even seeing a morphine tablet. Misplaced fears about drug abuse had condemned millions of terminally ill patients to an unnecessarily painful death. The social taboo was so strong, you had patients begging you not to give them morphine, for fear of addiction, he explained. In this respect, Kerala had again proved more enlightened than other Indian states and since 1998, palliative care centres in Kerala had been permitted to administer the drug orally. It took 19 long years, but in 2014, the Indian Parliament finally changed the law. Sir and his team’s current efforts are to get the new law implemented by India’s 29 states and 6 union territories. The new national health policy of government of India announced in 2017 has included palliative care; but it will require a huge effort to ensure strategy planning, budget allocation and implementation.

He says, “ We have been striving to ensure inclusion of palliative care in undergraduate Medical and Nursing curriculum; but have not had much success with Medical and Nursing Councils as yet. We have successfully persuaded the Kerala University of Health Sciences ( KUHS) to include it in 2016. We are now struggling to find a way to implement it.”

Dignity in death is another thing Sir stresses on . “Every human being deserves a dignified death” he says in this talk. It’s worth hearing it once. Only 10% of us stand a chance of a sudden death. The rest of us (‘us’ with money in our pockets) are likely to end up in a bed bound state in a hospital with state of the art facilities. In this he tells you that the richer you are (big, fat medical Insurance packet? NRI son?), the more important you are (President? Chief minister?), the more likely you are to face an agonizing death. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJDP73wqwRg

It’s important to have these conversations with your loved ones and plan in advance for a painless, dignified exit.

Sir has been an inspiration. His life’s work has been made into a movie, ’Hippocratic:18 experiments in Gently Shaking the World.’ http://hippocraticfilm.com/ It gives me great happiness to see his humble presence in the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. His nomination for the 2018 Nobel Prize is exciting for the entire doctor community in Kerala and the world Palliative care movement .

He is a simple man with a big vision. An India free from pain is his goal.

Our world needs more unassuming heroes like him.