Some professions are more equal than the others and medicine is one such field where a doctor is revered and expected to go beyond his line of duty. He stands as a messenger of God and in many cases, his word is the clincher that gives that extra breath to a dying man or pushes a healthier man to the brink. As Dr Samuel (Pratap Pothen) reminds his junior doctors Dr Ravi Tharakan (Prithviraj) and Dr Supriya (Remya Nambeesan) that while God is the final decider, sometimes even doctors can do that role and HE speaks through them in those moments.
Ayalum Njanum Thammil(ANT henceforth) chronicles the coming of age of Dr Ravi Tharakan, a care-free medical student who goes on to become a renowned cardiac surgeon. The story moves back and forth in multiple narratives between his casual life filled with fun and frolic on campus and his present life as he fights for survival in a world where ethics comes at a premium. He passes out of medical college in flying colours but is all at sea when it comes to actually putting his education to practical work. He lands himself a compulsory 2-year stint at a remote rural hospital in scenic Munnar, manned by Dr Samuel who gives up a well-paid corporate job to take up medical practice in a small but scenic village, devoid of urban pleasures.
There is a scene in ANT where Dr Samuel says that the difficulty in being a doctor is not in doing a diagnosis or a surgery but the ability to take decisions when it matters.Taking decisions is not something that Ravi Tharakan is used to and he has no aim in life until he meets Dr Samuel and learns a few harsh lessons in life. This journey is not a simple one and with every pitfall, he learns the meaning of life and discovers the doctor or rather the true human being within himself.
I wondered whether there will be a lesson on medical ethics that the movie seeks to impart consciously but thankfully, it does not allow itself to be too pedantic (the Aamir Khan way). Melodrama is muted which is not always a good thing and even when it makes a fleeting appearance, it fails to register (more on that later). While ANT makes the right noises about corruption in the medical profession in the form of usage of sub-standard drugs or medical equipment’s in the hospital, it faithfully clings to Dr Tharakan’s metamorphosis, without delving into the larger issues perse. Now, this is not a failing in the movie but these feelers needed to be expanded a bit more; the initial campus scenes could have been truncated to explore the medical side.
What works for the movie is that has its heart in the right place. It appeals emotionally as we feel Dr Tharakan’s loss when he loses his sweetheart Sainu (Samvrutha Sunil) to her parental coercion or when he faces a medical inquiry for refusing to treat a patient on account of a personal grudge. While the inquiry proceedings and its subsequent result act as the point of inflexion in the film, this is not a one-off moment. The transformation takes place gradually over a period of time and finally converges at the point of time when Tharakan realises how meaningful his life can be. There are no ‘Lakshya’ like moments and what we witness is a more silent change which is at once believable, when the ultimate moment arrives.
There are scenes that worked for me even though I don’t think the sum total of the scenes add to the whole. Azhalinte Aazhangalil sung by Nikhil Mathew beautifully captures Tharakan’s anguish and Jomon T John’s charming visuals captures that emotional scar that cleaves his heart; the loss of a lonely heart has a raw appeal. When Tharakan gives chocolates and touches the feet of the little girl that he had refused to treat earlier, you can sense the guilt that he goes through. When it is revealed that Dr Samuel has had a failed marital life and his son is in wayward company, there is an acknowledgment that the even his mentor is lonely and has his own troubles.
Among the highlights of the movie (it’s not the script) are performances by the lead cast and Jomon’s splendid cinematography. Pratap Pothen fills in the space with a gentle performance that is at once warm and is devoid of any chest-thumping self-righteousness or irrational exuberance that is exhibited in such characters; whether ANT or 22FK, new age Malayalam cinema has resurrected this actor from wilderness. When he deals with his wayward son’s outbursts or tries to understand Tharakan’s love life, the man carries on with the role with an element of dignity.
Prithviraj as Dr Tharakan finally emerges from his shadows and delivers a performance that silences his critics (and there are many of them, esp those who cannot digest his attack on superstar-driven cinema). Whether it is the scene where he faces his father after the inquiry or even when he confronts the wayward SI or his silent anguish at being deprived of his love (despite it being so underplayed), the machismo is balanced with his sense of emotional turmoil. Jomon’s cinematography is a silent and gentle meditation that helps in accentuating the emotions that the cast goes through. Yes, Munnar is beautiful but the visuals never hide the undercurrents that happen but manage to create the shades of gloom and despair that accompanies many of the moments.
Again, for me, ANT was a potential classic where Lal Jose eventually chickened out allowing himself to be dictated by more conventional norms. The latter part of the 2nd half works in a predictable fashion and scenes are written to allow for co-incidences to happen and that is kind of disappointing because of the way the movie positioned itself for a greater part of its duration.
While Tharakan is committed and can go to any extent to save a patient’s life including do a free surgery even without taking consent from the patient’s family, he does not seem to have done anything about the supply of expired drugs/instruments, other than complaining to the Chairman about it. He is no whistle-blower and remains part of the system that has its hands in deep shit. By no means is the fraud being perpetuated a minor one and the shock that Diya feels when she sees a kid who loses his legs thanks to an expired valve, is shared by us. Wouldn’t pursuing his stand against this also be a part of the doctor’s ethics? Of course, you can argue that this incident is narrated to us through Diya’s perspective, so we do not know the entire truth.
Maybe it was not deliberate but in showcasing the dedicated doctors as members of the bearded gentry and the rest of the doctors
as well-dressed or normal, wasn’t there a conscious attempt to stereotype their appearances and play to a gallery so that there is a neat compartmentalization between good and bad? A dedicated doctor like Dr Devi Shetty (of Narayana Hrudayalaya) who carries out free and low care treatment to patients but still is a such a charming personality can also be a prototype. Even when Diya (Rima Kallingal), the private secretary to the Chairman’s hospital, quits the hospital and joins ranks with the good boys, her appearance suddenly undergoes a transformation.
As mentioned earlier, there are no discourses on the Hippocrates’s oath except during the inquiry and the melodrama is muted even in the confrontational scenes with SI Purushothaman. There is just that once scene that has a tinge of melodrama but did not work for me. Dr Samuel slapping Tharakan in public for abdicating his responsibility wins brownie points from the audience but it left me wondering whether the situation could not have been handled more amicably. Maybe the doctor is a man of few words but wouldn’t he even ask Tharakan to explain his behaviour, instead of going on the offensive? Even his exoneration of the doctor during the inquiry comes as a surprise (not to the audience) to Tharakan but again, wouldn’t there have been a communication between the two before the inquiry? Mind you, he is not a good-for-nothing irresponsible doctor but somebody who in an earlier scene is shown as a man who goes beyond his duty, by working till early in the morning to treat a patient, even on the day he needs to travel to Ernakulam for his marriage on priority. Somewhere, these scenes have been played to the gallery instead of settling for subtler resolution of conflicts.
In medical circles, there has been a lot of debate on the merit of forcing medical doctors to work in rural areas with sparse infrastructure. From the look of it, work in Redemption Hospital in Munnar may not look like a bed of flowers but it is a far cry from the realities of difficult life in remote areas. Maybe if the writers had taken a peep into the difficulties faced by young doctors who have to spend two long years here and the lack of support they receive during this period, they would have been able to inject further reality into the surroundings. For somebody who has lived all his life comfortably, there is nothing to suggest his inability to cope with life in such pastoral surroundings.
But yes, none of these observations take away from the fact that the movie has an overwhelming emotional pull that largely works. It is well-intentioned and believes deep inside in what it wants to convey. For the writers Bobby-Sanjay, the epic blunder called Cassanova can now be conveniently forgotten, after the success of ANT and for Lal Jose, ANT, his third movie this year definitely falls short of a Diamond Necklace but is miles ahead of a pedestrian Spanish Masala…