Friday, June 15, 2007

Ek Doctor Ki Maut

Several days ago I had an accidental pleasure of watching Tapan Sinha's Ek Doctor Ki Maut. It was a unique experince for me, of watching a great movie without even knowing its name, even after it ended. It was only later, when I searched on the web based on the movie's plot and lead characters that I found some information about it. And I watched it on Lok Sabha TV!

The reason I started watching it (it had already begun; I don't know how much I have missed) was because I caught Pankaj Kapur, who plays Dr. Dipankar Roy talking about his research work with his mentor Dr. Kundu, a very senior microbiologist. What caught my attention was that I could readily relate to the way they were talking. It is the talk that we do so often in our lab. Probably in any research lab. As I continued to watch it I kept thinking how things have not changed! The love for scientific approach, the passion for research, the unrelenting quest for truth was there. It is there now too. It was not prevalent. It is not prevalent now either. It was thought that real research is done in the west. That hasn't changed either.

Dr. Roy, who's a government servant has discovered a vaccine for leprosy, after years of toiling. He has worked after his office hours, by setting up his own lab, and working in small private labs of some of his friends. He has also observed that, as a side effect, his vaccine has a definite chance of curing female infertility. It is a revolutionary discovery if it is proved to be true. Dr. Roy states clearly that his primary work is the discovery of a vaccine for leprosy. Though there's a definite possibility of the vaccine curing female infertility, it is only an observed side effect, and he is not going to claim anything yet about that. An enthusiastic journalist friend of Roy's (Irfan Khan) publishes this news. It is the infertility bit of the news that captures the imagination of the people, so to speak, and plays a crucial role in Dr. Roy's eventual "failure".

Very soon bureaucracy takes over. Peer envy starts haunting Roy. Leading gynecologist of Calcutta start a lobby against Roy, because Roy, who's not qualified in gynecology, is interfering in their business by announcing fake results. Roy finds it ridiculous that gynecologists should find problems with his research. It is them who are interfering in his business. It is them who are uinqualified to judge his work, because it has got nothing to do with gynecology; only microbiologists or cellular biologists can review it. The lobby grows stronger. Roy gets rebuked for publishing fake stuff. He is harassed at his work place. But he cannot afford to leave his job due to the loans he had to take for his research work. He gets invited to a talk by medical students. He gets humiliated there. They say they don't "believe" in his research. Roy is not at all amused by their choice of words. He maintains - "Science does not depend on anybody's belief or disbelief; it asks for proof. It's all about truth." He gets transferred to a remote village in Bengal, so that he does not complete his papers.

What is striking also is the foresight of Dr. Kundu, Roy's mentor, who to begin with expresses his displeasure about the news article that mentions the chance of curing infertility. He says - "Dipankar's work is about leprosy." He knows, by virtue of his experience that, this distraction was unnecessary and potentially dangerous until Roy publishes his papers. In any case, he tells Roy to leave everything else and complete his papers. He even makes the first draft of Roy's work and sends it across to an organization called John Anderson Foundation. He knows that the people here will not accept this work unless it is ratified by the west. (An enthusiastic response by the John Anderson foundation is buried deep by the bureaucracy at Roy's hospital.) Dr. Kundu takes Roy's family to task severely when he comes to know that he had gone to give a lecture to medical students. First news papers, then BBC and now this -- he is irritated. He restates the need to complete the papers and send them across before all this publicity kills his work.

A glimpse of hope appears in the form of Dr. Emily from the John Anderson foundation, who unfazed by the bureaucracy, comes all the way to the village where Dr. Roy is working. She goes through his preliminary writings and is amazed at its comprehension. She urges Roy further to complete this work and send across the papers. However, he is finding it immensely difficult to live alone in a village, away from his lab, libraries, and his most supportive wife (Shabana Azmi), who comes to meet him every weekend. He has already grown hopeless, when a new lobby led by his friend and gynecologist Arijit, puts pressure on the director of health to transfer Dr. Roy back to Calcutta.

Back in Calcutta, Roy resumes his work, hopeful of quickly completing his papers and publishing them. But it's too late. One day his journalist friend comes home and in a perturbed tone announces that the vaccine for leprosy has been discovered. The approach for its discovery is exactly the same as Roy's. Just that his name does not appear in the news piece. Some folks from MIT have won the race. At the end of the movie, Roy receives an invitation from John Anderson foundation to join them and continue his work by collaborating with their scientists. He only says to Dr. Kundu - "After all, my research was not false."

The movie was inspired by the tragic story of Subhash Mukhopadhyay, who was the first Indian physician to perform invitro fertilization (test tube baby), and who committed suicide because he was not allowed to present his work in international conferences. It's not so much about the plot of the movie (that I have revealed thoroughly, without even warning) as much as the thought that has gone into it.


Surabhi said...

I remember watching the movie as a kid. Those were the respectable days for the Indian Televison. Days when I had faith on the channels (DD etc) that I could view such realistic movies with strong characters.
I sometimes wonder, what will todays kids remember watching on the TV, once they grow up.

Sanket said...

True. It's "reality" shows now. DD and associated channels still have a better quality than channels like sony, zee etc., by the way.

Mandar said...

>> DD and associated channels still have a better quality than channels like sony, zee etc.

Definitely. Their programs are entertaining, they have some "art value", they are informative, educative... and so on.

I don't see the Zees and the Sonys being any of these. Pretty much useless channels that just sponsor sensationalism. I mean I don't understand how those morons who win in their singing competitions, can be called singers! A few guys just won because they had long locks and "janata ki vote" was in their favor... Gets me irritated, all of this.

Sunny said...

I remember watching the show which had pankaj kapoor well it was really interesting at that time well now its like everything has changed all commercialisation has taken place and people like Ekta Kapoor is ruling the industry nowadays 10yr old also watches that saas bahu serials which has rape murder and everything god knows where it will lead

Anonymous said...

I watched Ek Doctor Ki Maut today, which surfing channels between the rape news on other channels. My India feels so degenerative today. Scientists commit suicide & rapists rule the news!!