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In a majority of movies churned out by Bollywood, doctors and nurses have only been on the fringes of the narrative. But there are some which have highlighted the professional trials and tribulations faced by our healers. Few have even commented upon the complex challenges of poverty, malnutrition and scarce resources faced by doctors and nurses in a developing country like India.

Keeping in tune with the times, the depiction has also undergone a major transformation. As our society has become more self-centered, so has the general character of the doctors and nurses shown in the Bollywood flicks. The self-sacrificing doctors of yesteryears have slowly but steadily given way to glamorous ones playing second fiddle to a mostly romantic script at hand.

Risking Their Own Lives

In the pre-independence era prior to 1947, we had self-sacrificing doctors who rendered their services in alien lands, serving the Poster Dr_Kotnis_ki_Amar_Kahanipeople affected by war and plague. Old timers may remember Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946, V. Shantaram, ‘The Immortal Saga of Dr. Kotnis’) which was based on the true life-story of Dr. Dwarakanath Kotnis who was sent to China during World War II. Dr. Kotnis helps the people of China during the Japanese invasion. Rendering a selfless service, he marries and settles down there itself but eventually dies of plague.

Post-independence, we had Dil Ek Mandir (1963, C. V. Sridhar, ‘Heart is a Temple’), where the doctor performs a successful surgery but ends up collapsing due to the tireless effort he puts in preparing for the same. Aman (1967, Mohan Kumar, ‘Peace’) was inspired by the story of Dr. Kotnis. The hero gets inspired to serve humanity after meeting Sir Bertrand Russell and goes to Japan to serve the victims of nuclear holocaust.

In Selfless Service  

In movies like Anuradha (1960, Hrishikesh Mukherjee) and Khushboo (1975, Gulazar, ‘The Fragrance’), the heroes are doctors Poster Khamoshiwho decide to serve poor villagers in the interiors of India. Risking their own health and welfare, they keep busy with their work and neglect their family and personal lives. In Anuradha, the wife eventually ends up sacrificing her urbane musical ambitions to support the husband. In Khushboo, the wife does so but not before she has questioned his lack of initiative in inviting her to live with him. Both movies had finely chiseled performances by the lead actors – Balraj Sahni, Leela Naidu, Jeetendra and Hema Malini.

Khamoshi (1969, Asit Sen, ‘Silence’) had the inimitable Waheeda Rehman playing a nurse in a mental asylum. She falls in love with a patient who gets well and moves out without reciprocating her sentiments. Impressed by her success, the doctor-in-charge entrusts yet another patient to her care. She falls in love with him as well but loses her own mental balance when he is cured. The moral of the story: a medical professional should not get personally involved with a patient. Easier said than done!

Battling the Big C

In the 1970s, Bollywood came out with several movies which had a medical problem as the cornerstone. In quite a few movies, cancer took over from TB as the real villain. Most of these movies tugged at our heartstrings. One, there was the inevitability of death. Two, the sheer helplessness of a doctor made the narration even more poignant. Audiences loved them nevertheless and often came out of theatres with drenched handkerchiefs.

Safar (1970, Asit Sen, ‘The Journey’) had a doctor facing the charge of intentionally killing someone dear to her. The story was Poster Anandessentially a love triangle. The underlying theme was that of jealousy of the doctor’s husband, guilt of the doctor wife and reconciliation with the fact of impending death by the wife’s close friend who is afflicted with cancer.

Anand (1971, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, ‘Bliss’) was a landmark film which touched upon several facets of a doctor’s life. Indian health care system’s discrimination between the haves and the have-nots of the society was one of the facets. Yet another was the transformation of an atheist doctor into someone who starts  believing in the power of prayer to heal. The need to have a positive attitude towards life, howsoever short it may be, was the basic message of the movie.

Commercial and Legal Dilemmas

Tere Mere Sapne (1971, Vijay Anand, ‘Your Dreams, My Dreams’) narrated the story of a doctor who migrates to a city after Poster Tere Mere Sapnehaving suffered professional as well as personal setbacks in a rural setting. His transformation into a money spinning professional in an urban environment is well captured. Eventually, he migrates back to the village and regains his sense of good values and ethical practices in healthcare.

Achanak (1973, Gulzar, ‘All of a sudden’) posed an interesting dilemma faced by a doctor at times. Does it make sense for a doctor to strive hard to save the life of a convict who is to be sent to the gallows? The movie answers this question in the affirmative.

The Fringe Benefits of Healthcare

In Silsila, we had a hapless doctor (Sanjeev Kumar) trying to figure out how to handle the post-marital affair of his wife (Rekha). In Satte Pe Satta, we had the heroine (Hema Malini) playing a gutsy nurse, though only in the first few reels.  Salman Khan in Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya, Abhishek Bacchhan in Dostana, Kareena Kapoor in 3 Idiots, Vidya Balan in Pa and Aishwarya Rai in Guzaarish were all glitzy characters playing to the gallery, with their medical talents appearing only on the fringes of the main narrative.  

Healthcare with Bear Hugs

Munna Bhai MBBS (2003, Rajkumar Hirani) was a hilarious take on the medical profession. It touched upon the mixed up Poster-Munna_Bhai_M.B.B.S.priorities in hospitals where patients lack a personal healing touch and where procedures take precedence over urgent medical issues. Quite a few of our aspiring and practicing doctors would have drawn inspiration from the movie to improve the healthcare system by according better priority to compassion, empathy and liveliness in treating patients!

Summer 2007 (2008, Suhail Tatari) raised the issue of lack of awareness amongst medicos about the social ills and absence of any healthcare delivery service in India’s rural areas. Greedy moneylenders and power-hungry politicians rule the roost. A group of medical interns attempts to cope with the daunting challenges facing villagers.

Waiting for Medical Blockbusters!

The wide variety of healthcare related issues touched upon in these movies is commendable. However, one still waits for an in-depth poster comatreatment of the field of medicine at the hands of Bollywood. There is immense scope for medical thrillers based on patent rights of gene based therapies, moral dilemmas raised by the new frontiers of medicine, whistle blowers exposing corrupt practices in the pharmaceutical industry, shortages of critical vaccines and contemporary challenges on providing universal healthcare services in India.

In the last decade, Bollywood has demonstrated its capacity to make shorter movies based on innovative themes. Hopefully, the field of medicine would also get better attention with script-writers and directors coming out with a Coma, a Strong Medicine, a Virus and, possibly, even an Erin Brockovich in not too distant a future!

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As we celebrate this year’s Doctor’s Day, one’s thoughts inevitably turn to the string of doctors who have treated oneself as also near and dear ones at some point of time or the other. A word of gratitude is surely in order. For these are the people who show us light when we are enveloped by the darkness of ill-health. They give us hope when we need it the most. They have the capacity to ease our minds, make us worry less about our sickness and do their very best to lessen our pain and suffering.Doctors Day

They have to necessarily cope with patients of all sizes, shapes and temperaments whose income and curiosity levels also vary. Some patients are content with merely following instructions, whereas others who believe in self-medication and suffer from ‘Googlitis’ merely come to see a doctor to get a confirmation of the sickness they already believe they are suffering from. If the doctor comes up with an unfamiliar name of illness, orders a new test or prescribes a hitherto unheard of  medicine, such patients go back quite convinced that the doctor is a ‘good’ one!

If one has a complaint, it is only that they work too hard, often neglecting their own well-being in the process. One silently admires their chin-up attitude; despite remaining surrounded by human misery in possibly its worst form, they continue to smile and keep their focus on the task at hand. The poor souls have family responsibilities just like all of us. However, for a vast majority of them, patients are always the first priority, virtually 24X7.

The Angels in White

Same can be said of the nurses, technicians and other para-medics who are eternally vigilant in taking care of the patients under theirFlorence_Nightingale charge. The angels in white uniforms ensure that the right medicines are being taken at the right time. They also grapple with issues facing several patients at any point in time, coordinating with each of the doctors concerned and ensuring that relevant instructions are rigorously followed.

Nurses play an important role in maintaining the morale of the patients as well as the relatives at an appropriate level. Often, they have to bear with patients who have a foul temper. A caring and compassionate nature, coupled with a high Emotional Quotient, helps them to handle their complex task.

The Patient Patients

It is rather baffling that while we celebrate a Doctor’s Day (July 1 in India, March 30 in US) as also a Nurse’s Day (May 12 internationally), we do not spare a thought for the hapless patients. Their contribution to the field of medical science is no less; the entire medical fraternity owes its existence to patients! Moreover, besides being sick, they have to show remarkable patience while undergoing the trauma of getting treated – in getting an appointment with the doctor, endlessly waiting in queues to see one, pushing around to get all kinds of diagnostic tests done, rushing back to the doctor to get medicines prescribed and then going through the whole treatment.

In case a surgery becomes necessary, the immediate family gets involved. In these days of nuclear families, the support of theCartoon Dr Patient family’s social network becomes critical. The fear of impending surgery gnaws at the inner being of the patient, whose energy gets all the more depleted in the process. The fact that the he/she is causing so much trouble to all near and dear ones goes on to add to his/her agony. Post-surgery, pain and trauma have to be faced to which all others can only be mere spectators. Back home, an endless routine of visitors starts, with some of them making uncharitable and insensitive comments which make the poor patient suffer even more mental anguish.

The Silent Sufferers – Attendants

And what about the hapless attendants? They have to practice multi-tasking no end. Answering calls from anxious but distant relatives while procuring medicines is only one facet of the challenge. Organizing food which strikes a delicate balance between what is wanted and what is needed by the patient is another one. If admitted to a hospital, lot of formalities and paper work may become necessary. Round-the-clock surveillance becomes necessary. Skills in house-keeping come in handy, because prior to the scheduled visit of the doctors on rounds, the nurse with a stiff upper lip keeps nagging the attendant till the time the patient is in a ‘presentable’ condition and the room is tidy and orderly. Naturally, the fairer of the species fit into such roles with much ease!

For an attendant, PR skills are a sine qua non, because an endless stream of visitors has to be managed. In most cases, patients treatMother_Teresa_memorial_plaque the number of visitors as a clear measure of their personal popularity index. Nothing would cheer them up more than to keep a tally of the kind of fruits and goodies brought in by various visitors, so the favor may be returned at some future date in a proportionate manner. On their part, some of the visitors leave the hospital in a cheerful mood, thanking the Divine for not putting them in the patient’s predicament.

One would propose that as a caring society, we seriously consider declaring days earmarked to celebrate a World Patient Day as well as a World Attendant Day. The European Union has already taken a lead in this direction, with May 15 being observed as a Patient’s Rights Day. One sincerely hopes that other forward-looking countries would not only declare Patient Days but also honor the nameless attendants who silently slog and bring some relief and succour to the ailing patients. This would ensure an equitable treatment to all those who play a crucial role in the well-being of Homo sapiens!

Medicine-related blogs on this site:

  1. 1.   ‘A First Hand Experience in Medical Tourism’, published December 14, 2012
  2. 2.   ‘The Miracle of Alternative Therapies’, published March 31, 2012

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