Monday, March 1, 2010

Apna Asmaan : Be content with what you have

Propaganda films are easily recognizable. They mouth a cliché in a dry, ham handed and rather preachy manner and are generally boring to watch. Old timers will remember the newsreels that used to be compulsorily shown in the cinema halls before the main movie feature began. They used to beat the drum about the government of the day and its achievements in the most obvious way possible.

So I approached a film about an autistic child with some trepidation. The film being Apna Aasmaan released about three years ago and directed by Kausik Roy. It makes a point sure, it would have been criminal if a message had not been in built in to the movie given the topic that the subject is chosen is one that certainly needs a lot of social education and awareness.

Irfan Khan and Shobana are a typical middle class couple with an autistic child. The child has put a strain on their marriage for two reasons – the simple act of looking after such a child when all around people are ridiculing and laughing at the child is stressful enough. And then on top of that, the dreams that they had for their son that he would grow become a mathematician , they know are now never going to be realized. And the couple have been never been able to reconcile themselves to that. The husband busies himself in work and drink and the wife in the simple tasks that are involved in taking care of her son.

Several treatments are tried but nothing works till they run into a maverick scientist who claims to have a treatment that is quite off beat, has never been tested on humans but a treatment that the doctor claims will work. However the treatment doesn’t have a side effect; but the doctor does not elaborate except to say that should it be needed, an antidote is available. Much against the wishes of their family physician who has been encouraging the couple to stand with their son in all that he is gifted at – for instance sketching, they opt for the unconventional treatment.( the couple don’t see much use for their son’s paintings).

The treatment works apparently and almost overnight their son becomes “normal” and develops a gift in mathematics and music and becomes known as a prodigy. Meanwhile changes in the child’s personality are also noticed… the gentle, albeit different child now becomes rude, abrasive and insensitive. The family doctor informs that that he has noticed changes in the child’s brain’s limbic system which has shrunk- and the limbic system is the one that makes a person human by controlling the emotions. Meanwhile as the child becomes increasingly violent, the parents begin thinking as different as the child was in his pre treatment days, he was someone who could be loved and understood…. Their son was not the stranger that he had become. Eventually they have the treatment reversed and their son becomes the autistic child that they knew and loved.

As I said before, the film leaves you with a message but it is not a preachy film. But it does convey a very valuable truth – that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence and that in our quest for what looks more attractive, more desirable, we often devalue or not often even notice the gifts that are present among us; because we are seeking some other reward, some other prize. … That is just beyond the horizon, just beyond our reach….