Medicine in Bollywood: What else were we even expecting?
-Dr Ankit Sharma
Senior Resident, DM Onco-Anesthesia
AIIMS, New Delhi
Equipped with medical degrees and a mental database of embarrassing exam memories, I am today going to try and ridicule the portrayal of medicine and health care in pop-culture (which is mostly Bollywood with a splash of the idiot box here and there). The reason to do so is a hope to get them to spend more at researching medical facts and procedures before they write a script, which may very well be a veiled attempt to get them to increase their budget for their script in general.
So, where do we start? It’s easier to get all emotional about how multiple movies over the years have portrayed doctors as money-leaching villains and how it affects the general perception of doctors in the public eye. Of course, you’d see the obvious bias because the author is a doctor, and if you could see his bank statement, you would have a hearty laugh while empathizing with him for not being the proverbial money-leaching villain. So, we’d better not go down that road. Instead, let us focus our energy at denouncing the stereotypical Bollywood doctor with a white apron and even whiter hair, which is obviously false because many of us start experiencing rapid hair fall by the time we finish our third degree course or our children start their first which, in many cases, may coincide.
Speaking of stereotypes, a typical portrayal of a nurse in pop-culture is a skirt-and-hat-clad damsel in distress running and calling for a doctor every time a patient has a problem ranging from weakness to a plain old cardiac arrest. Nothing could be farther from truth, because more often than not, nursing staff has bailed doctors out because of their practical knowledge not dependent on the previous year question banks that we prepare from for our viva voce. It is team work that runs healthcare, which is not limited to passing a scalpel during surgery and being the occasional love interest.
There are no words to explain how angry pharmaceutical industry must feel at Bollywood, because most of treatment modalities in movies revolve around non-pharmacological methods. After a surgery ends, ‘Dua’ is equal to or more important than ‘Dawa’. Need a corneal transplant? Bang your head against the stairs of a temple while your son sings a song and get your sense of sight back (Amar Akbar Anthony). Have an aneurysm in your brain and still need to beat up goons? Just pour cold water over your head, and calm the brain down medically but not literally (Rowdy Rathore). Need a pregnancy test? Be a younger sister to the hero and do a ‘chakkar khaa ke gir jaana’ anytime (too many examples to count).
The surgical disciplines are, to put it mildly, an absolute joke for Bollywood. That zero watt red-colored light bulb which must switch off with the last suture or bandage, operating rooms with glass walls, no standard OT attire or sterility protocol (you can’t miss how they already have sterile gloves and then put on their masks with their hands), attendants barging into OTs, sometimes those attendants even wanting to do surgery because what value does M.Ch. hold in front of affinity and dedication for Suhaag anyway? (OK that last one was an actual TV parody, but you get my point, right?)
There will always be apologists in Bollywood, who say that they do such things to make it simpler for audience and for creative freedom, and that there do exist well-researched medical movies like Munna Bhai MBBS. Of course it was a ground-breaking medical movie. Take Sanjay Dutt curing a 12-year paralysis with jhappis and a nazdeeki aur aaramdayak shave for example. If you have a medical background, you’d know that touch therapy is now a revered mode of treatment as it stimulates the nerve endings which in turn increases dopaminergic outflow of serotonergic tracts in the spinal cord which can achieve myocyte hypertrophy and hypertonic status of muscle spindles. Did that make sense? No? That’s because I just made that up.
I may seem riled up a tad too much, and that’s because the anesthesiologist inside me feels so left out because most of the surgeries in pop-culture are shown with simple face mask on the patient, and most of my job profile is limited in Bollywood to a kidnapper with a chloroform bottle and a handkerchief. Also, the medical student inside me is offended because they remade Sanjeevani under the title Dill Mill Gaye, and showed us all flirty-eyed with our peers while standing next to the patient’s bed, whereas the reality is that as medical students, we’re at the bedside teary-eyed because the senior is blasting us for not knowing the classification of third generation cephalosporins.
So, the bottom-line is that they need to show the medical fraternity and protocols closer to reality. If anyone approaches me, I think I can help them to curate their script better. My expertise, I swear, will not be limited to telling them about the correct number of chloroform drops on the kidnapper’s handkerchief. I’d still keep that zero watt bulb outside the operation room, though. Don’t ask me why.