Writer-director Tapan Sinha’s 1990-film Ek Doctor Ki Maut ranks amongst the finest in Hindi cinema. But thanks to its non-commercial ‘parallel film’ nature, it has remained amongst the hidden gems for most film-lovers.
Sinha’s film tells us a story of a non-descript MBBS doctor (Pankaj Kapoor) working in Kolkata’s government hospital. He has spent ten years of his life working on the elusive solution for the prevention of Leprosy. He is doing this research on his own, working in the nights in his self-made home-based lab. All this while, he has practically shut himself off from the world, even totally neglecting his loving wife (Shabana Azmi). Finally he makes his breakthrough and creates a vaccine that would prove to be a boon to millions. A reporter friend (Irrfan Khan) publishes a news report about his discovery, which is set to challenge and change the age-old norms of leprosy treatment. But instead of getting encouragement, the scientist doctor now faces the wrath and ridicule from the government machinery and medical fraternity.
High-level bureaucrats are upset at his maverick, headstrong behavior. Some influential doctors are worried that some of his research findings may endanger their professional interests. So forming a clique, they make the doctor’s life a living hell, condemning him in press and public and even transferring him to a remote village to hamper his research papers. Thanks to a senior scientist friend’s efforts, the doctor’s initial research findings generate a huge interest in the Western scientific circle. But will he be able to overcome this stiff opposition from his own fellow countrymen? Will his research paper ever see the light of the day? Will he finally get the accolades he so richly deserves?
Tapan Sinha’s film touches the chord by showing in graphic detail the heart-breaking journey of a man sacrificing everything in his scientific pursuit, only to lose his way to the wicked world. As a director, Sinha takes care not to turn this film into a dry scientific documentary but instead treats it from a human angle, exploring different emotional perspectives of different characters.
Pankaj Kapoor brings to life the central protagonist, who is rude, selfish and inconsiderate, but also totally committed to his research work. The way in which he portrays the pain and confusion after encountering the hostility of the outside world is just superb. It is definitely a performance of the highest order.
Equally impressive is Shabana’s portrayal as a wife driven to desperation by her husband’s obsession for his research. On one hand, she is deeply unhappy over her unfulfilling marital life but on the other hand, she still loves her husband so much that despite every possible reason to leave him, she just cannot!
Lasting more than two and a half hours and that too, without any ‘entertainment props’, Ek Doctor Ki Maut is not for the masses. It is a serious, soul-searching film for a thinking audience. It is easy to label it as a film exposing the overall inefficiency of Indian system, which prevents many talented people from achieving greater success. But in reality, the film highlights shortcomings- not only of the Indian system, but of human race in general. Apathy, jealousy, corruption, resistance for change, persecution of path-breakers…haven’t we seen all these things happening all over the world in all spheres of life since time immemorial? A dedicated man giving his all for the progress of mankind and then, hitting the brick-wall of the system unwilling to accept any change – isn’t it a familiar theme from the times of Galileo?
Tapan Sinha had written this film’s script after coming across a real life-story of a government doctor working on another research project. In his film, Sinha could at least provide a slim ray of hope in the bitter-sweet ending. The real life protagonist was not so lucky- frustrated by his humiliation, he committed suicide!