CANCER RISING: Cinema needs cancer. Characters played by Rajesh Khanna in Anand, Jimmy Shergill in Lage Raho Munnabhai, Swini Khara in Cheeni Kum succumb to the disease
Ketan Tanna on how cinema has made the disease a powerful brand of death while the truth is that an increasing number of patients are surviving it and leading fulfilling lives
Along with â€œKitne aadmi theâ€ and â€œMere paas maa haiâ€, one of the most enduring expressions in Hindi cinema is, â€œlymphocircoma of the intestine.â€ Rajesh Khanna is diagnosed with it in the film Anand. Long before that, and long after, cancer was, has been and will be the most powerful brand of death in mainstream cinema. Heart attack is too sudden. AIDS is film festival cinema. TB interferes with dialogues. â€œHe has cancer,â€ is perfect. It is a dramatic statement that a viewer understands as the morbid certainty of pathos in the climax. But this really annoys those who work with cancer patients. The truth is cancer doesnâ€™t always mean death. If detected in the early stages, more than 50% of those who are diagnosed with it can lead a fruitful life. But the branding of cancer is so strong that patients equate it with death.
In India, the number of people who are claimed by heart attack is three times more than cancer fatalities, says Dr Rakesh Gupta, India Consultant of the American Cancer Society. In the case of blood, ovarian and breast cancers, the survival rate is between 40% and 50% over a five- year period. This means that if a person suffering from this type of cancer survives beyond five years, it is highly probable that the patient is cured of the disease.
Itâ€™s not just Bollywood that has contributed to the morbidity associated with cancer. Television soaps have also used it as a mechanism to get rid of characters. For instance, in Kumkum, a cult serial for housewives, one of the main characters, having outlived her purpose for the production company, discovers that she has cancer.
There are hundreds of cancer survivors who lead a happy life after battling the disease for years. Anurag Basu, who directed one of the most acclaimed films of the year, Life In A… Metro, is a testimony to the fact that not only can one combat cancer but also plan for a better future. Basu catapulted to fame with the film Murder and was flooded with offers thereafter. Halfway through his next film, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia. The year was 2004 and he was 30. Basu was given two months to live. â€œI was in a bad shape and was on a ventilator,â€ Basu says. â€œMy attitude was that I am not going to think cancer is different from other diseases. People take pills for blood pressure, heart problems and I take pills for cancer,â€ says Basu.
In fact, Basu even directed parts of the film from his hospital bed as shooting could not be cancelled. To complete the film, he would give instructions on a dictaphone, talking about camera angles and the script. Mahesh Bhatt and Mohit Suri finished the film later. Now, Basu is fighting fit even though he is undergoing chemotherapy and taking medication. His family and unit stood like a rock behind him.
In 1986, Sobha Doshi, now 51, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She seemed to be getting well, but had a relapse in 1989 which saw six months of painful treatment. â€œIt was one of the worst periods of my illness. I could not swallow food. I would vomit constantly and many times my only hope was that I should not vomit after my kids came home from school,â€ she says. It has been over 17 years since the relapse, but Shobha is doing well and working as a volunteer with V Care, an NGO. â€œCancer should not mean death. Yes, often the treatment can be painful and there is always the chance of a relapse. But one can survive, progress and live a dignified life,â€ she says.
V Care volunteer Sandhya Voraâ€™s son, Rishab is a spirited 17-year-old. Ten years ago he was diagnosed with neurogenic sarcoma on his right hand. Painful cancer treatment followed and as a result, one arm is smaller and thinner than the other. But the family never gave up hope nor did they moan in self pity. â€œToday Rishabh is just like any teenager and has his problems, though cancer is not one of themâ€ says Vora.
There are many such success stories. In general terms, the survival rate of cancer is 20% in developing countries as compared to 60% in developed countries, says Dr Rakesh Gupta. According to Gupta, apart from the influence of cinema, cancer and death are synonymous in India because itâ€™s usually detected in the advanced stage. â€œUnfortunately, there is a feeling among many of us that cancer is something that happens to others.â€ Like, Rajesh Khanna in Anand. TNN