Ventilator: A Family holds its Breath

Gajanan Kamerkar is in ICU. He’s on a ventilator with barely one percent chance of survival. Word goes out to all branches of the Kamerkar tree. Instantly dozens of aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and grandchildren from Konkan and Kolhapur and Mumbai descend on the hospital to do their duty. It’s a classic situation in which to examine the feelings, frictions and frustrations that glue the extended Indian family together. The loving and the grieving and the quarreling are all done loudly and without any sense of time or place. But the film-maker’s eye is indulgent, coaxing us to see this assorted bunch of human beings as “basically good people”. So, if you recognise yourself amongst them, you needn’t feel too bad.

Wittily written and directed with flair by Rajesh Mapuskar, Ventilator is firmly founded on the twin principles of entertainment that have enjoyed an illustrious history in Marathi theatre and cinema -- laughter and tears. In this case, the laughter is tinged with black. Gaja Kaka’s coma has come at quite the wrong time. The Ganapati festival is a week away. Hectic preparations have been on to welcome the god. What if Gaja Kaka dies before the event? The family will be forced into ritual mourning. What will happen to Ganapati then? “God can take care of himself,” says Dr Shroff (Boman Irani) tersely. “Worry about the man on the ventilator.”

That’s the central dilemma of the film. The family needs to decide how long to keep Gaja Kaka on the ventilator. While nephew Raja (Ashutosh Gowarikar) quietly takes charge of the chaotic situation, he doesn’t have the right to make this crucial decision. Prasanna (Jitendra Joshi), Gaja Kaka’s alienated son does; but he is missing, drawn away by local politics in which he is involved. Daughter Sarika (Sukanya Kulkarni-Mone) makes an interim plea. She wants her father to remain on the ventilator till noon the following day, while she prays for his life.

Meanwhile, the colourful members of the family have a field day revealing themselves to us in mostly comic but occasionally resentful vignettes. Mapuskar’s dialogue is full of trenchant lines for each of the 40 odd characters that people the film, keeping it bobbing along on ripples of laughter. The family fawns over Raja, the only big success story they have. But that doesn’t stop one aunt from asking him cheerfully why he’s lost all his hair; and another from putting her down with, “What does he need hair for? He’s not an actor. He’s a director.” This exchange momentarily diverts even Gaja Kaka’s grieving wife (Sulbha Arya) from her woeful litany of the things Gaja Kaka did before he collapsed, to advising Raja on how hair loss is best treated.   

Beneath this stream that bubbles on the surface of the story, runs an undercurrent of two father-son relationships that need to be resolved. All his life Prasanna has felt neglected and unappreciated by Gaja Kaka. His dive into politics, something the old man disapproved of, is a statement of defiance. Raja has held his father Bhau (Satish Alekar) guilty of making his mother so dependent on him that her inability to look after herself has killed her. Finally, both men come to terms with their fathers and themselves, Prasanna with a finely nuanced speech and Raja wordlessly.   

Gowarikar, present in almost every frame at the hospital, has an ease of bearing, speech and gesture that creates a restful oasis in the midst of mayhem. Viju Khote as a match-making uncle, delights with his sly watchfulness; Nilesh Divekar, the leader of a group of disgruntled relatives waiting to quarrel, creates his character with a few drawled lines; Deepak Shirke the struggler, looks outlandish in a flowered shirt but underneath it he carries a heart that’s in the right place. Satish Alekar as Bhau, astonishes with an emotionally charged performance that contrasts sharply with his irony-laden performances in his own plays. Priyanka Chopra plays herself rather well. She is the centre of a hilarious scene in which the entire family cranes over Raja’s shoulders to catch a glimpse of her on his phone and say hi to her.

Of the two take-aways from the film, one is personal. Aren’t I glad my family is small and doesn’t possess a scrap of ancestral property! The second is universal. The ventilator can only provide breath for existence. But what makes existence worthy of being called life are human relationships. Those can only be forged and nurtured with love and understanding.

Published On : 09-11-2016