There was an era in Indian cinema when films were segregated as commercial movies and parallel movies. With Arthouse Days, it’s time to revisit those ‘parallel films’ that were overshadowed by the glamorous outings.
Ek Doctor Ki Maut (Death of a Doctor) is the story of a doctor who works in a government hospital and despite coming up with ground-breaking innovation to prevent leprosy, he is attacked by the bureaucratic engine of the medical community.
Starring Pankaj Kapur and Shabana Azmi, Tapan Sinha directorial Ek Doctor Ki Maut released in 1990. The film is inspired by the real-life story of Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay who could not get the due he deserved in the international medical community. Dr Mukhopadhyay pioneered the field of in-vitro fertilisation but he lost the title of ‘inventor’ to UK’s Louise Brown. It is said that he was stuck in the bureaucratic jungle which caused the delay in him being the first person to successfully complete the IVF process.
The film was produced by National Film Development Corporation of India and written by Ramapada Chowdhury.
Ek Doctor Ki Maut opens with Dr Dipankar Roy (Pankaj Kapur) who is obsessed with his experiments with lab rats. His marital life with Seema (Shabana Azmi) is in shambles but that’s the least of his concerns. After he creates a vaccine that could prevent leprosy, Dipankar gains attention from the national and international press but his peers aren’t happy about it and this creates roadblocks. The bureaucratic structure here is the biggest hindrance for Dr Roy as they consistently fail him and the vicious attacks from other doctors are no help either. His only allies are his senior colleague Dr Kundu (Anil Chatterjee) and a news reporter Amulya (Irrfan Khan).
The film talks a lot about the lack of faith in our own scientists and their innovations back in the day.
In an important scene in the film, one doctor says to the other, “If creating a vaccine for leprosy was so simple, then the US and England would have done it a long time ago.” The film reminds us on many occasions that the worth of someone’s work should not be associated with their educational degrees but their hard work and the results they yield.
The story also focuses on the spirit of competition and jealousy that often finds a way between working professionals. Dr Arijit (Vijendra Ghatge), who calls our protagonist Deepu, has been one step ahead of him all his life but he too can’t gather the courage to publicly stand for his friend in the medical community. Jealousy and scepticism become driving factors for Arijit who, against his better judgement, gets involved with the opposition camp.
Dr Roy is an arrogant inventor, so when his work is being examined by people who he believes are under qualified, it makes him lose his temper. He realises that no matter how hard he tries, the committee that needs to approve his presentation would never do so because they can’t rise above petty politics.
The film is set in a time when the culture of ‘sarkari babu’ was quite prevalent in government offices.
Files and papers would disappear in transit and amid all of this paperwork, there was no place for a scientist who could change the face of science in the country. In a remarkable scene, Dr Roy announces his “surrender” because he realises that the system he is fighting against, is a lost cause.
Ek Doctor Ki Maut won three National Film Awards including National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film, National Film Award for Best Direction for Tapan Sinha and the Special Jury Award for Pankaj Kapoor.
Ek Doctor Ki Maut is the tale of countless innovators whose work could never get the recognition it deserved. It’s the story of men and women who had to first battle their own system before they could make a mark in the world and most of them weren’t lucky enough to leave a trace.
Ek Doctor Ki Maut is streaming on YouTube and Hotstar.