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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Khajoor Pe Atke, Review: Free fall and die hard

Khajoor Pe Atke, Review: Free fall and die hard

Ventilator, a Marathi film produced by Hindi actress Priyanka Chopra, became the toast of Maharashtra in late 2016. The story of a family, whose eldest and most beloved member goes into a coma and is put on a medical ventilator a few days before the Ganesh Chaturthi festival celebrations, it won eight major awards. A year-and-a-half later, actor Harsh Chhaya releases Khajoor Pe Atke, his version of a ventilator story. Sadly, while the idiomatic title means that falling from the sky, one got stuck on a date tree, the film is a free fall, with very few breaks.

Let’s pretend for a moment that not everybody knows what a ventilator is, and define it: A ventilator is a machine that helps a patient to breathe. Patients are usually placed on a ventilator because of a medical problem that makes it hard for them to breathe well on their own. While on the ventilator, the body is able to rest, so that it can heal. The ventilator can help with breathing, or totally breathe for the patient. Ok, so we got that. Adding a bit, a ventilator is crucial in cases where the patient has slipped into coma.

Ventilator is a symbol for the state of the patient, who is in a coma, neither fully alive, nor technically dead. It is always a dilemma for the family members, whether to continue keeping the relative’s breathing, or, when there is no real hope, to pull the plug. Not quite euthanasia (letting/helping a patient die), the issue is somewhat similar. How long do you keep a vigil at the hospital and how many millions are you willing to spend on the treatment, with the rarest of rare chances of recovery? The writer in Harsh Chhaya saw a story here, and which artistic mind wouldn’t?

Through a phone call past midnight from his nephew Alok, Jeetendar Sharma, in Lucknow, gets the news that his brother, Devendar, is in a semi-coma, and may pass off anytime soon. He starts making plans for going to Mumbai the very next day, along with his wife and daughter. His siblings, Ravindar and Lalita, rush down too. The whole crowd collects at the hospital. Alok’s mother Kadambari gets drawn into frequent, nervous eating, while the siblings and their wives keep ruing the fact that Devendar seems far from kicking the bucket.

Their father had gifted Devendar the flat in which the family currently resides, because he did not have a place when the old man was dying. Now that Devendar is dying, the other Sharmas want a slice of the pie. Meanwhile, Jeetendar’s daughter Nayantara, who calls herself Rosy on social media, gets involved with Rocky, who is involved in casting for films. The family boys (cousins), for their part, first flirt with two passer-by girls, where they get beaten, but then muster up enough courage to visit a clandestine beer-bar and watch an ‘item’ song being performed. To their misfortune, the bar is raided by the police, and they are arrested. Meanwhile, the Sharma family has to decide if and when to pull the plug of the ventilator.

All that reads interesting on paper translates as a mish-mash on screen. Old-style overacting and ear-splitting background score, used for some 90% of the film, is a recipé for very uneasy viewing. Harsh Chhaya fails to make a mark as writer or director, but is not so bad on the ears, singing ‘Dhoka’. He needed an ensemble cast, and he’s got one, though not many are star names. And yet, it’s all in vain. Throughout the film, we hear an unknown family-member calling and talking to Jeetendar. This voice makes an apparition in the last shot of the film, and contributes nothing at all. Why was he brought in? Moreover, most viewers will guess who that voice belongs to. A hospital ward boy is omni-present and potently corrupt. Likewise, the corrupt cop is omni-present too. There seems to be only one doctor and one nurse around on the top grade hospital when there are emergencies, and they bolt across the corridors as if they are being chased by wild animals.

Rosy and Rahul’s track is interesting, as are the efforts of Lalita to anoint her brother, and to bring in a ‘Baba (Godman)’ character to help cure the long suffering Devendar. How far will Rs. 500 take you in the ICU of a hospital is a good punch, as are the repercussions of making post mortem arrangements in advance. What do you do if the die-hard does not die at the appointed hour, and all arrangements have been made for his cremation, prayer meeting and bhajan (religious verse) singing? More of such stuff was needed, rather than all the bickering about how much the upcountry residents spent, and how badly inconvenienced they were in coming and staying in Mumbai.

Manoj Pahwa (Jolly L.L. B., Desh Ishqiya, Judwaa 2) is Jeetendar, the mainstay, and he does have a few good lines. Seema Pahwa (All Is Well, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan; Badki in the popular Doordarshan soap opera Hum Log; also Mrs. Manoj Pahwa in real-life) tries hard to make her character credible. Vinay Pathak (Midnight’s Children, Bheja Fry, Bheja Fry 2) as the contractor brother Ravindar is acceptable, but his attempt at crying strikes a false note. Suneeta Sengupta (City of Joy, Chalo-Let’s Go), Mrs. Harsh Chhaya in real life, plays Anuradha Ravindar Sharma. She doesn’t say too much, just looks demure.

Alka Amin (Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana; with Shahrukh Khan one of his earliest TV serials, made in Delhi) as Kaadambari underplays beautifully, and really comes into her own towards the end. Dolly Ahluwalia (Mudda, The Blue Umbrella, Vicky Donor) as Lalita is confident and has expressive eyes. Prathamesh Parab (Dagdu from Time Pass) is a completely credible Mumbaikar ‘tapori’, Rocky. Vicky Arora (Boliyan; TV) as Alok is cast in a role that doesn’t challenge him much. Like Prathamesh Parab, Nagesh Bhosle is the quintessential Mumbai cop. Vandita Shrivastava (The Shaukeens, Shamitabh, Hai Apna Dil Toh Awara) is invited to perform the ‘item’ song. Lastly, chubby Sanah Kapoor (Shaandaar; sister of Shahid Kapoor) as Nayantara fools you into thinking that she is a gullible wannabe, until….

For somebody who has been in TV for about 25 years and in films for not much less, Chhaya has handled the film with naiveté. Even his own cameo, designed to make you laugh at the self deprecation involved, fails to make you even chuckle. End credits are matched with NG takes (out takes), where the goings on might have been hilarious to the cast, but are lost on the audience.

On a date? Avoid this one.

Rating: * ½


Coming-up: Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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