March 12, 2012

Bollywood Logic

            Movies are fiction. A good movie is merely a good story. But stories and logic are not mutually exclusive. It’s interesting to look at Bollywood’s way of telling a story and whether that includes or excludes logic.
Munnabhai MBBS was a hit sequel to a hit movie. It’s a comedy movie just as its predecessor was. But it tries to send out a message as well. So we get to see the principal of the medical college lecturing medical college students on the first day that they shouldn’t get emotionally involved with patients. Doctors should merely treat the patient and not get too attached to him or her. Clearly this is standard practice.
But the way it’s projected in the movie makes it apparent that doctors are villains for not dealing with patients as if the patients were their nearest and dearest loved ones.


Oversimplifications and generalizations are plentiful. They’re cheap and useless too.
Doctors have to be a little bit detached from their patients for very practical reasons. Firstly, doctors interact with thousands of patients over their lifetimes. Some of them will die despite the best efforts of the doctor. If a doctor’s specialty is such that he or she deals with only the most challenging cases then that doctor will see even more deaths. If the doctor were to think of every patient like a close relative, like a brother or sister or parent, then each death will affect the doctor deeply and soon the doctor will become an emotional wreak; likely, the doctor will turn into a mental patient.
To prevent this likelihood, through the experience gained over the centuries, it has been determined that emotional detachment between the doctor and the patient is good practice. What matters is that the doctor should give the patient the best medical treatment as per the patient’s condition. The medicines and the treatment will determine the outcome based on the patient’s condition. We’ve gained an understanding about disease processes and developed medicines to treat them. The medicines will do their work. But we do not understand all the diseases. We do not have cures for all the diseases. In diseases such as AIDS, we have medicines that help to keep the virus in check. For the class of diseases that is known as cancer, we have medicines and other forms of treatment for some of them and do not have any cures for others. The complexities of cancer are there and the job of the doctors is to try and provide the best treatment possible.
Whether or not the doctor has emotional empathy with the patient becomes completely irrelevant. All that is expected is that the doctor should be a normal sort of individual with normal human characteristics and should not be some sort of a psychopath.
If you’ve got an infection, you need the appropriate antibiotics. If you’ve got cancer, the cancer cells will die only with the appropriate chemotherapy or other forms of treatment. Hugging and emotional grandstanding is not a cure.
Secondly, if the doctor is a surgeon, he or she will be performing procedures that involve cutting and generally mutilating the human body. This is not something we do as a matter of routine. If a surgeon were asked to perform surgery on his infant kid, I think the surgeon’s natural parental instincts will make it difficult for him to put a knife in his baby and make an incision. Similarly, if the surgeon develops emotional bonding with all the patients, he will find it difficult to perform surgery on any and all of them. It’s better therefore that the surgeon doesn’t develop too close an attachment with the patients and is therefore able to perform surgery that may require amputation which means a patient’s leg or hand may need to be cut forever. For doctors in critical care situations or trauma departments, death has got to be a frequent visitor. Doctors who come face to face with these cases of human tragedy must develop a sense of stoicism to be able to continue despite it all.
They deserve respect for being able to handle it all.

There’s another movie by the name of 3 Idiots.
We see situations that reveal the lead character to be super-smart and others to be idiots. The principal of the engineering college where the hero takes admission repeats the urban legend about how NASA spent lots of money to develop a space pen. The hero suggests that NASA could have used a pencil and saved a ton of money. This suggestion leaves the principal dumbstruck. Well, the details are of course a bit more complicated and those interested will know the answer. Suffice to say, pencils break and thus NASA could not have used them.
The lead actress plays a doctor — it’s not clear whether she’s an all-purpose doctor or a specialist gynecologist or obstetrician. In any case, she is a strange character. For a doctor, it’s rather immature to have a belief that our nose will interfere if we kiss someone. This seems juvenile but the leading lady is shown to hold the belief. This sort of ham-handed attempt at showing the female to be pure and unadulterated is what gives Bollywood the reputation for silliness that it has.
We see a rather prolonged scene of a woman delivering a baby and a lot of acting full of excessive emotions. We see how much of a genius the hero is when he gives the idea of taking out everyone’s car batteries (without asking for anyone’s permission apparently) and connecting them to power up the impromptu delivery ward since their was a power failure which is usual in India. We also see the doctor helping the hero remotely through web video chatting and the hero of course turns into the savior of the moment becoming the obstetrician of the day.
We see fun being made of unnecessary complexity in engineering where simplicity can do the job. Well, the truth is that technology is complex and it’s a complex structure like a multi-storied building.
Technology is built layer upon layer. The simple laws and tools and machines and technology were discovered and invented and built during the Industrial Revolution which occurred two centuries ago. Now we live in a time of complexity. Computer microprocessors are more complex than steam engines.
The Hubble Space Telescope is more advanced and complicated than the first telescopes designed by Galileo.
I don’t know if the completely baseless claim about one-third of NASA comprising Indians is also repeated or not somewhere in the movie but it would not be out of place in the movie if it has been made.
You’ve to give it to Bollywood for making science cool where the scientist and inventor is smart and dashing and chivalrous with a beautiful lady who’s in love with him. Of course Bollywood good guys a.k.a. heroes don’t lust for multiple female partners unlike the normal human male.
These are specific examples from two superhit movies of recent years.
The broader question of course is why is it that Bollywood seems to make such embarrassing stuff.
There’s talk of patents in the movie 3 Idiots. The problem with making movies in India is that India is home to millions of illiterate people who comprise a significant chunk of the audience. The city-dwelling, multiplex-hopping young generation only has a few tens of millions of members.
So the producer is faced with a dilemma as to whether he wants the movie to be a mass-market movie or one targeted at a specific section of the audience.
What we sometimes get as a result is a hodgepodge of a movie that’s designed to hopefully do both — that is have universal appeal. And it’s no wonder that such movies appear oversimplified or emotionally immature to the small segment of Indians who have been exposed to Hollywood movies or European movies or other movies that are sometimes known as ‘world movies.’
May be the reality of life for most Indians who have been traditionally poor is so drab and colorless and circumscribed by harsh reality that they expect color and magic on the screen. Hindi movie heroes traditionally are able to perform seemingly impossible tasks such as single-handedly fight off 10 villains.
Indian moviegoers don’t want reality to intrude on the experience of enjoying a movie. The audience won’t lap up a movie that deals perhaps with the deep sadness that might be felt by parents who might lose a child for some reason. Well sometimes kids die and Indian parents and society moves on by having another kid.
We don’t need movies to tell us about the hellish conditions that brides are sometimes faced with after marriage for not bringing enough dowry. The audience is personally familiar with such cases of bride torture or even dowry death.
India has not faced any major wars since independence but that doesn’t mean that there is no violence in Indian society. There have been enough riots and the brutality that goes with that. But we don’t see any movies that document those events in the way that Hollywood movies such as Schindler’s List do.
The cause for unhappiness for most people in the West is that they feel insecure and feel like having been failures in life if they don’t become millionaires and such. Watching a reality-based movie might make them feel better about their situation when they see the wretchedness of life in the Mumbai slums or how people can learn to derive what pleasure they can even while surviving in those forbidding conditions. ‘If they can be happy despite all that, we can be happy too with our house in the suburbs and our two kids and two cars,’ is pretty compellingly logical.
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