Home » From Dr Kotnis to Munna Bhai: How cinema portrayed health warriors

From Dr Kotnis to Munna Bhai: How cinema portrayed health warriors

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Anurag Singh Bohra | New Delhi

From socially relevant to mainstream cinema, Hindi film actors have portrayed doctors for decades. 

As we get stuck in our homes from the coronavirus pandemic raging outside, here is a look back at some rare Hindi films that highlighted the lesser portrayed role of the medical profession.

Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946)

The movie reminds of Dr Li Wenliang, who played a key role in disclosing the Coronavirus Pandemic. It is based on the story “And One Did Not Come Back,” by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas played by Director V Shantaram himself.

Dr Kotnis was sent to China during the Second World War. He was providing medical assistance to the troops fighting against the Japanese invasion in Yenan province. The doctor cured a virulent plague. Released in 1946, the film did face budgetary limitations and low production value but is still considered ahead of its time. V Shantaram, known for his grand vision does justice to this magnum opus in terms of screenplay and direction. A must watch for the students of the cinema.

Bandini (1963)

Adaption of Bengali novel Tamasi by filmmaker Bimal Roy, it features Nutan and Dharmendra in stellar roles. Dharmendra in a brief, yet significant role plays a prison doctor who falls for a woman prisoner serving life imprisonment. Set in the backdrop of 1934, the film depicts the health issues related to women prisoners during the pre-independence period. Roy’s direction amicably complements the novelty of the original Bengali novel and Nabendu Ghosh’s screenplay. Paul Mahendra’s dialogues for the film are subtle with minimal melodrama. 

Dharmendra’s character as a doctor with modern ideas on society and women was a unique narrative in the Hindi cinema during that era. Bandini is an eye-opener on how much the Indian doctors and healthcare sector has struggled for decades. With the lack of resources and less advancement in medical science, doctors were willing to work at the grassroots level for the welfare of mankind. The classic is an inspiration to budding doctors and a humble tribute to medical staff across the globe working relentlessly to save humanity.

Dil Ek Mandir (1963)

The film directed by CV Sridhar, known for his works in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi cinema dealt with cancer. Though the movie has a mainstream narrative, it’s the performances by actors Rajendra Kumar, Meena Kumari and Raj Kumar that are the spine of the film. The portrayal of human emotions depicted with slight melodrama caught the pulse of the audience. Yet it’s the character played by Rajender Kumar as Dr Dharmesh that keeps the audience engaged. A doctor’s willingness to go that extra mile to save his cancer-stricken patient makes this one a recommended watch.

Anand (1971)

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One of the most popular Hindi films based on cancer, Anand was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, known for light-hearted family entertainers. Although the film does have elements of humour along with mesmerizing music, it’s hard-hitting than Mukherjee’s other mainstream entertainers. It explores the relationship between a cancer patient Anand and his doctor Bhaskar Banerjee. Anand is suffering from lymphosarcoma of the intestine (a rare type of cancer) and Bhaskar tries hard to cure him. Bhaskar starts his career by treating the poor for no charge but becomes a pessimist as he sees suffering, illness, and poverty all around him. Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna showcase one of the rarest bromance in the 70s as they portray Bhaskar and Anand respectively.

Kaala Patthar (1979)

In this 1979 action drama directed and produced by Yash Chopra, Rakhee Gulzar plays a doctor who works for mining workers. Since the community is deprived of healthcare needs; Dr Sudha Sen, played by Rakhee comes to their rescue. At a time when there’s so much debate about a medical aid for the downtrodden, the plot penned by Salim-Javed seems relevant even today. The film also features Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Parveen Babi, and Neetu Singh. The story was based on the Chasnala mining Disaster that happened in Chasnala near Dhanbad in 1975. A film that not only highlights doctors but a grave disaster that impacts the lives of weaker sections of society.

Armaan (2003)

Co-written by Javed Akhtar and Honey Irani, the film takes a subtle take on the medical profession. Armaan is a story about three doctors Siddhant Sinha, Akash Sinha and Neha Mathur working in the same hospital. Although it’s a melodramatic narrative, the movie does give a glimpse of the challenges faced by doctors. Amitabh Bachchan’s famous dialogue sets the tone of the plot where his character confesses, “Whenever I see a patient dying, it feels I lost a battle.” Anil Kapoor and Gracy Singh look convincing as doctors. Although it’s a family entertainer but captures the lives of medical professionals with the utmost sensitivity. A must watch for movie buffs.

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Udta Punjab (2016)

The dark comedy crime thriller has been co-written by Abhishek Chaubey and Sudip Sharma. Chaubey has also directed the film co-produced by Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor. As the makers are known for dark and sensational cinema, this one’s a treat for the David Lynch – Martin Scorsese film lovers. Based on the hard-hitting issue of substance abuse among youth in Punjab. The film stars Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh and Kareena Kapoor Khan in pivotal roles. Kareena plays Dr Preet Sahni who runs a rehabilitation center for drug addicts. The film went through a lot of controversies during its release as politicians believed the movie was maligning the image of Punjab state. Watch out for the performances, story and realistic portrayal of a sensitive topic.

Munna Bhai MBBS

A 2003 Hindi comedy-drama about an underworld don who enrolls in a medical college to fulfill his father’s dream of becoming a doctor. Sanjay Dutt plays the protagonist Munna Bhai aka Murli Prasad Sharma. With zero knowledge or experience about the medical profession, Munna creates a holistic and empathetic regimen in the hospital. Inspired by him, the medical students also understand the importance of compassion and sensitivity while dealing with patients, contrary to popular belief about doctors not getting attached to patients. Munnabhai MBBS emphasizes the healing ability of love, care and affection while treating patients. A humane perspective to medical science which is the need of the hour in the current scenario. At a time when positive thinking and self-love is recommended by experts, this one’s for your watch list during the quarantine. A story about hope, love, happiness and healing power within mankind.

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