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Dr G: A ‘Funny’ Attempt, But Shouldn’t Empathy For Women’s Pain Be A Given In Doctors?

A film about gynaecology set in a country like ours needs sensitive build up. But we have an abundance of swelling bellies, loud labour moans, chaos, and crying babies on screen balanced with timely set jokes.

Trigger Warning: This deals with child sexual abuse, violence against women, graphic descriptions of childbirth, and may be triggering for survivors.

In Bangala we have a term for pampered sons, ‘babu-shona,’ often used endearingly as well as mockingly. Every time I see a new film which has Ayushmann Khurana, in the lead, my immediate reaction is—ah we have another story where a babu-shona learns to pull down his privilege goggles and look into society and gain some awareness. And Doctor G was just that.

As a viewer, I went into the theatre expecting a typical story of a babu-shona in his twenties unlearning his prejudices and growing into an empathetic person.

Meet Dr Uday, freshly minted MBBS

Set in Bhopal, we meet Uday, a fresh MBBS graduate whose rank is below 500 hence his options at residency are limited and the department of his choice—orthopaedics, which is far from his reach.

He also claims he is a nice guy, unlike Kabir Singh who goes around claiming, “Yeh meri bandi hai,” he doesn’t do that to his girlfriend Richa. But few scenes later, he pins the blame of his poor rank and lack of department on Richa!

Uday lives with his widowed mom and IAS aspirant tenant/best friend, who are pretty excited that Uday is a doctor now, and it doesn’t matter if he is a pathologist or a gynaecologist; ghee ka laddoo is a ghee laddoo despite it being out of shape, his mother says.

But the only seat Uday can enrol for is Gynaecology; aka the ‘stree-rogh’ department. Uday is beyond hesitant, as he feels he can’t practice in a profession where most of his patients are female. How can he treat people when he doesn’t possess their body parts?

Once in the department, he has two decades worth of misogyny to unpack.

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*Spoilers Alert

Focusing on the secondary issues?

A film about gynaecology set in a country like ours needs sensitive build up.  We have an abundance of swelling bellies, loud labour moans, chaos, and crying babies on screen balanced with timely set jokes to make us understand the mess gynaecology department is.

The creators establish that the path of pregnancy is not pretty. Clueless husbands requesting nurses for a baby boy, nervous wives, mothers-in-law encouraging their daughters-in-law to shout louder to enter the labour room first. We have a person in labour squirting out faeces, another spreading bloody thighs letting out placenta juices and finally the umbilical cord is cut.

And I appreciate this honest description of pregnancy—not everything is pink, white and fluffy like a pregnancy test kit advertisement. But I would’ve loved more stories focusing on the pregnant person’s pain and troubles— vagina tears, spinal cord injuries, physical exhaustions and more.

Four interesting subplots— to drill in the message?

All about women in Uday’s life. Each actor did a terrific job to hold her ground and drilled the lessons into his thick skull.

Uday’s mother Lakshmi, who wants to be a chef and is re-exploring romance with dating apps.

Fatima, the senior who keeps trying to make Uday understand she just wants to be friends with him despite them having had a brief romantic moment.

Dr. Nandini who is the head of Gynaecology department who refuses to mollycoddle Uday.

And Kavya the PMT aspirant, an underage girl seduced by Uday’s elder orthopaedic cousin, who later becomes pregnant.

Of all the subplots, the one I cared for most was Kavya’s. A school girl in an impressionable age who is madly in love with an older doctor, Ashok. Her pregnancy and complications around the abortion plays the key factor that plants the seeds of empathy in Uday.

An important sub-plot that needs a full film

What troubled me most about Kavya’s storyline is how teenage girls are so vulnerable! Fearing society’s judgment, they end up trusting their horrible lovers to make decisions about abortion and aftercare. We need to explain and establish it to young girls that in matters of bodies; one must trust their parents or adults or teachers in their life and ask help.

Similarly, parents too must tell young girls that if they make mistakes, they won’t be shunned and slut-shamed for “ruining the family’s image”, but protected and loved. That yes, parents will get angry, but under no circumstances will they abandon their child. Something parents need to learn.

Ashok in the story is Kavya’s local guardian, who has betrayed her parents’ trust, practiced unprotected sex with a minor; which is statutory rape—and put Kavya’s life in danger when he left her in a shady clinic. This story could’ve been the entire premise of the film, and I wouldn’t complain.

Uday who had idealized Ashok all his life and was willing to overlook his crimes, finally steps up as the brother Kavya never had and finally as a gynecologist who has empathy. Though, it still makes me question do men always need to have a connection with a woman to have empathy? Why can’t they have empathy without a tragic connection to their near and dear ones?

A few hard questions we need to ask

Isn’t the profession of medicine about healing and caring? Why is women’s pain sidelined and their issues deemed overrated by men?

I know many women who refuse to visit male doctors not because they are ashamed or uncomfortable to a man’s touch, but because they don’t like male doctors’ behaviour who have no basic sympathy or patience for the female patient’s words.

Would Uday have been so hell-bent to save Kavya’s life if she was not like a sister to him? Had she been a random minor who needed help, would he steal a car to rush her to hospital? I think it is time Indian movies about babu-shonas need to preach radical empathy.

I was a bit bored midway after constantly following the single track of re-educating Uday. Like, why do you not have a single ounce of basic human decency as a healer, dear Uday?

But this country has many babu-shonas, who only understand something when the message comes from the mouthpiece of a male. Ayushmann is the most popular male social message mouthpiece of this country— does he impact people—I do not know.

A few things, the film did highlight that everyone should remember: under medical ethics code—a male doctor should examine a woman in presence of another female staff. It emphasized sexual intercourse with a minor is an act of rape, even if the minor has consented. In case of minors seeking abortions, they need an adult with them. And most importantly, a doctor’s profession should be about empathy first and foremost.

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Aritra Paul

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