Dr Robin Williams- RIP...

You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome. Robin Williams moved on to the theatre in the sky recently. A man who entertained generations had incredible acting skills, unbounded energy and great sense of humour all embedded in his compassionate persona. Little wonder, Williams was tailor made for his performance as a doctor with a very human touch. Here is a brief recap of some of his most famous roles as a medical doctor/ therapist: Awakenings (1990)– Based on the semi autobiographical book by the Neurologist, Oliver Sacks, Williams plays Malcolm Sawyer, a compassionate physician taking care of catatonic patients in the 1920s USA. Incessantly searching for a solution, he stumbles upon a possible medical cure in the form of L-DOPA. The awakening that this brings about and the subsequent relapse explores the gamut of human emotions in the protagonists.   Patch Adams (1995)- Perhaps his most celebrated role in this genre, he plays the real life Hunter “Patch”Adams in the movie about this rebel with a cause whose life mission is to bring joy in his patient’s lives in whichever way possible. Set in the straight laced 60s, Medical School teaching rarely veers from the conventional. Adams, with his unconventional views and antics, livens up the proceedings considerably to the happiness of his patients. The upheavals in his life and the bitter sweet ending, again gives Robin Williams an opportunity to explore a tragicomic character. Through a more uni dimensional storytelling, the character was explored in Indian cinema in the Munnabhai series and its numerous regional avatars.   Good Will Hunting (1997)- This movie is about a prodigiously talented youth, Will Hunting working as a janitor in the MIT....

Medicine and Movies Nov30

Medicine and Movies

“Medicine and movies ?”, you may well ask. The traditional stereotype of a doctor is one of a nerdy individual with thick soda glasses who is far removed from anything that Vidya Balan may refer to as “ Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment !” Boring, bookish and bland. None of the doctors I know come even close to this cliché. Some are singers, yet others are classical dancers; some are smart and sassy and still others are downright funny. So who creates these stereotypes ? Is there peer pressure to fulfil them ? I still remember my father giving one of my senior medical colleagues the once over and declaring with a disdainful sniff “ He doesn’t even LOOK like a doctor “. Doctors have to look, dress and behave in a prescribed manner ? Doctors are like regular people – they practice medicine and deal with ill people. But as human beings they are not from another planet.I thought I would have a look at doctors and the practice of medicine in movies and see if these stereotypes arose from cinema which usually gets blamed for all society’s ills. A lot of medicine in movies is poorly researched and superficial. Jargon and myths abound. Social beliefs and misconceptions are reinforced. New diseases are trivialized or demonized. One bout of projectile vomiting and the nubile young lass is pregnant. Diagnosed with alacrity by the village dai who perfunctorily measures her pulse. The said young lady climbs a stool to reach an object, and a miscarriage is waiting round the corner. A drizzle begins and labour will proceed among torrential rains to climax in the lusty wails of an Apgar score 2 infant. Sex is never mentioned in the good Indian movie. Children arrive on the scene because the heroine falls in icy cold water and the hero finds no other way to warm the hypothermic young lady ( Refer : Aa Gale Lag Ja with Sharmila Tagore and Shashi Kapoor or Roop Tera Mastan in Aradhana). The Mahesh Bhatt school of unbridled passion and Ekta Kapoor’s rare case of Love, Sex Aur Dhokha is a recent advance in the Journal of Movie Medicine Vol 420, pg. 1- 69. Diseases are either generic like the ubiquitous “ blood cancer “ or become super specific like “ lymphosarcoma of the intestine “ which was immortalized by Rajesh Khanna in Anand. Frank Capra’s famous observation” Tragedy is not when the actor cries; tragedy is when the audience cries ,” perfectly fits Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand that milks a terminally ill patient’s story for every tear in the lacrimal gland. . It is a film that keeps its protagonists dry-eyed but makes the stoniest member of the audience blink with emotion. Disease has been used to give a character colour, content , motivation or meaning. Sanjay Leela Bhansali exploring a blind –mute character in Blackor a paraplegic’s dilemma in Guzaarish are two recent examples. Asperger’s syndrome helped to create My Name Is Khan and dyslexia made a quiet entry into the Indian living room with Taare Zameen Par as did progeria with Pa. International Cinema has been doing this successfully for years. Daniel Day Lewis used just his Left Foot to bring cerebral palsy worldwide attention. Way back in 1967 Satyen Bose showcased schizophrenia in Raat Aur Din with Nargis Dutt’s award winning performance as Varuna/ Peggy. Shankar carried this to melodramatic heights with Anniyan where the multiple personalities even get their hair permed and straightened in seconds. NIMHANS figures in this movie and depends on the psychiatrist for diagnosis and unravelling of mystery.   Doctors are usually portrayed as kind, caring, quiet, morose or intellectual individuals. Way back in 1946 V. Shantaram portrayed the story of a doctor who travelled to China in Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani based on Khwaja Ahmad Abbas ‘ story ‘And One Did Not Come Back’. The hospital has eerie...