TALKING FILMS

Final diagnosis: The Big C remains the number one movie malady

‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ is the latest film about a character who develops cancer at an opportune moment in the narrative.

Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil has polarised audiences because of the controversy surrounding its release, as well as its mixed-bag narrative. The plot twist that has the relentlessly energetic Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) developing cancer has been soundly rapped. Since Ae Dil Hai Mushkil attempts to tread new ground with its handling of unrequited love, it is particularly jarring to watch Johar clumsily employ an often-rehashed trope.

But there is ample evidence to suggest that the Big C, overused as it is, can make for engaging cinema. Cancer is arguably the foundation for an entire sub-genre of movies, such as Anand, Safar and Dasvidaniya, which revolve around cheerful and stoic patients who deftly arrange for friends and family to remain happy after their death.

The changing depictions of the coping mechanisms of cancer patients reflect evolving social trends. In Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand, the film credited with inaugurating the cancer film genre, the titular character (Rajesh Khanna) is resigned to his condition (the unforgettable lymphosarcoma of the intestine) and attempts to eke out as much happiness he can from the remainder of his life. He makes lasting friendships with strangers and arranges for the cynical and lonely doctor Bhaskar (Amitabh Bachchan) to marry the woman he loves.

Anand’s ceaselessly cheerful exterior chips off only in private. Even his most personal expressions of grief, such as the beautifully melancholic song Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaaye, are restrained. Despite his compelling charm, Anand is too balanced to be relatable.

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‘Anand’.

On the other hand, in Shashant Shah’s Dasvidaniya (2008), the lovable schmuck Amar (Vinay Pathak) goes about reclaiming his life after he discovers he has just a few months to live. Working off a methodical bucket list, Amar finally completes tasks on which he had procrastinated, such as travelling abroad to meet a school friend and learning to play the guitar. Unlike Anand, Amar embraces his grief openly. Although he enriches the life of people around him with parting gifts, Dasvidaniya is less about how Amar transforms the lives of others and more about his self-discovery.

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‘Dasvidaniya’.

The manner in which filmic cancer patients organise the lives of those they leave behind has also evolved considerably. In Dil Ek Mandir, when lung cancer patient Ram (Raaj Kumar) finds out that his surgeon Dharmesh (Rajendra Kumar) shares a past with his wife Sita (Meena Kumari), he asks Dharmesh to wed Sita in the eventuality that he dies. Ram is almost relentlessly likeable. In Safar, impoverished leukemia patient Avinash (Khanna) convinces Neela (Sharmla Tagore), the woman he loves, to marry Shekhar (Feroz Khan).

In Nikhil Advani’s Katti Batti, however, cancer patient Payal (Kangana Ranaut) hides her condition from her boyfriend (Imran Khan), rants and rages at him and pulls off some dubious shenanigans to dissuade him from marrying her. In Vipul Shah’s Waqt: The Race Against Time, when Ishwarchand (Amitabh Bachchan) discovers he has lung cancer, he chooses to conceal his impending death from his spoilt son, Aditya (Akshay Kumar). In trying to coax Aditya into shedding his dependence, Ishwar never attempts to endear himself to his son.

Amitabh Bachcan and Akshay Kumar in ‘Waqt: The Race Against Time’.
Amitabh Bachcan and Akshay Kumar in ‘Waqt: The Race Against Time’.

Since patients grappling with terminal cancer are faced with a severely shortened lifespan, they forced to re-evaluate their personal morality. In Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw, when cerebral palsy-afflicted Laila (Kalki Koechlin) confesses to her mother Shubhangini (Revathi) that she is bisexual, Shubhangini is disgusted. However, when Shubhangini’s colon cancer relapses, the duo reconciles.

Mahesh Bhatt’s Kaash features a divorced couple (Dimple Kapadia and Jackie Shroff) that reconciles to fulfill the final desires of their son Romi, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer. In Siddharth Malhotra’s We Are Family, a cloying remake of Stepmom, cervical cancer prompts Maya (Kajol) to beseech Shreya (Kareena Kapoor), her ex-husband’s girlfriend, to help raise Maya’s children after her death.

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‘We Are Family’.

The evolution of the doctor-patient relationship can also be traced in cinematic depictions of cancer. In Safar and Dil Ek Mandir, doctors offer friendship, advice and moral support to their patients. In Anand, the eponymous character is deeply attached to his doctor, repeatedly asking for him just before he dies. In more recent films like Dasvidaniya and We Are Family, doctors maintain professional boundaries, and interactions with their patients are restricted to sombre clinics.

However, the ideal screen cancer patient is cut out of a time-honored template. Cancer patients are sweet people, brave enough to smile through their pain and accepting the inevitability of their fate even as they express a will to live. They are not alcoholics or smokers (there’s a scrupulous mention of their clean lifestyle), but victims of the caprices of fate. Consider the uncomplicated Zaheer in Munnabhai MBBS, Amar in Dasvidaniya and Romi in Kaash. Nagesh Kuknoor’s flawed but engaging Aashayein offers an exception in lung cancer patient Rahul. He is a smoker and an inveterate gambler who unceremoniously runs away from his fiancé after he discovers his condition.

Although they incorporate cancer into their narratives, Hindi films often sanitise the depiction of the disease. They seldom depict the full extent of the havoc that the disease wreaks on minds and bodies of patients. Even in the advanced stages of the disease, cancer patients simply appear with an extra ring of purple around their eyes. In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, for instance, Alizeh is bald due to the ravages of radiation and chemotherapy, but fit enough to prance in and out of hotels and pubs. Rajesh Khanna looks ridiculously healthy for a cancer patient in Anand and Safar.

Hindi films also rarely portray the trauma and spirit of a survivor. While most films detail how cancer can be curable, the filmic cancer patient is seek medical counsel at the last stage when “maaf kijiye, ab kuch nahi ho sakta”.

Sunil Dutt’s progressive Dard ka Rishta is a rare exception, portraying the efforts of medical professionals working to help patients conquer cancer. When oncosurgeon Ravi (Dutt) finds out his daughter Khushboo has leukemia, he is advised to fly his rapidly deteriorating daughter to New York City, where meets his ex-wife Anuradha. She performs a bone marrow transplant to cure Khusbhoo.

Dard ka Rishta, produced and directed by Dutt after he lost his wife Nargis to cancer, resonates with personal grief as it dissects the agony of the relatives of cancer patients. However, it papers over Khushboo’s mental upheaval and trauma as she recovers from the disease.

Aquarius, a Brazilian film screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2016, is a compelling portrait of a middle-aged woman who happens to be a breast cancer survivor. Hindi cinema’s navigations around cancer offer insightful depictions of human strength, grief and morality, but they are miles away from a film like Aquarius, which treats cancer as one of the pieces that make up the larger picture of a survivor’s personality.

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‘Aquarius’.
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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

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2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.