Not every storyteller is ambitious, but Abhay Kumar certainly is and if you watch Placebo you might realise it. If you have been following MAMI over the years you would perhaps know that Abhay and his shorts have been a regular feature of the festival. I have been wanting to watch Placebo, for a long long time. Finally I watched it last week, it has been more than a week since I watched it but the film still keeps playing in my head. Like his short film Udaan this is not an easy watch, it disturbs you.
The best thing about Placebo is that it is not interested in a linear narrative. Even though the screen mentions the day, after some time I was overlooking it as it wants and makes you feel a gamut of emotions.
Placebo is set in one of India’s premier medical institutions, where Abhay finds himself after a freak accident which involves his younger brother. Abhay tries to unravel some of the brightest Indian minds, it is such a revelation. Abhay tries to deconstruct an elite institution, by trying to give us a glimpse of these young doctors.
It seems as if they are as normal as most of us, they talk about job prospects, moving to the USA and one thing which Abhay highlights upon is that even young boys have insecurity with their own bodies, an issue which is rarely highlighted.
It is interesting that when Abhay asks them as to why they want to become a doctor or aspired to be, the answers are something which you do not expect to hear. Well okay the one that says it’s because my parents wanted is true for most Indians.
Abhay also talks about ragging, I do not know if ragging exists in other parts of the world, but in India, it is pretty ugly and often has resulted in the death of students every year.
The most disturbing part of the film comes when Sahil his younger brother accuses Abhay of being selfish and caring about the film more than him or their relationship. It is dilemma that all artists have to overcome, how much your life can be put back into art or where do you draw a line. It is an interesting perspective considering that Abhay has been asking and tracing these students, the idea of being a doctor, ethics and here the scene reverses that perspective. I personally feel creating any form of art, allows the artist to escape reality for few moments at least, may be that is what Abhay was doing at that time,using a camera to escape from the trauma.
What disturbs me the most was this institutional apathy towards young minds, their students who fall behind due to lack of understanding or empathy, where teachers think if you do not pass the exams you are not hardworking or smart, that the blame lies always with the student. They are just a number, in success its just a pay package, when they commit suicide it is just another case of depression.
It is interesting that a student while conversing in English to Abhay mentions that the student who committed was a little niche, belonging to a different background and Hindi speaking. The underlined meaning of these conversations is that someone who is not an upper caste, does not speak English or has done his schooling from a non-English medium institution has no future in India’s premiere institute, they are just a number and their death does not matter.
My only grouse with the documentary was there are no female characters, now I do not know if AIIMS does not have female doctor or these four doctors who are shown in the documentary do not have any female interaction.It would have been interesting to know the viewpoint of a female student as well.
Placebo is a brilliant documentary which forces us to think about our institutional failures and if in our craze of numbers have we lost our sense of humanity or do we continue to see the world just in binary.