This piece is a review of a work of fiction. All thoughts and views expressed in it are based upon the film through the eyes of the writer. They are not representative of the the views of the magazine.
She stares, wide-eyed as if struck like a bullet by a sudden realisation.
“Tell me, are all these patients coming from the Palace Hotel?” she screams. “Tell me!”
Nagging fear. Emotional dilemmas. Grief. Loss. And the occasional uplifting of the heart even at times when death stands before us. The 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. With a spin.
As three young medical students from various backgrounds arrive for the first day of their residency, the corridors of the Bombay General Hospital prepare for doom later in the day. An intriguing series that portrays the events of the attacks through the perspective of the doctors at the hospital, the audience is offered a realistic insight into the power of crisis to bring people together.
I am writing this piece not to summarise the plot, because to do that would be to condense an intricate masterpiece into a few words, a virtually impossible task. Instead, it is the portrayal of societal factors and relationships of medical warriors amidst a crisis, an aspect so refreshingly tender, so poignantly presented, that it would be a true shame to not highlight it in a discussion of the narrative series. In my opinion, it is the characters of the three young interns that especially warrant scrutiny, because of the perspective they provide into how the socioeconomic outlook of contemporary society continues to disrupt the importance of human life in times of crisis.
The delicate balance between family relationships and one’s duty during a demanding crisis is shown through Diya Parekh, one of the three medical interns on their first day, who starts her day with a disagreement with her mother. Parekh appears to have a tense relationship with her wealthy parents, especially her father. Tables turn later during the day when the terrorist attack begins on the Taj Hotel and Parekh realises that both her parents are present at the scene. An intriguing dilemma follows, continuing almost throughout the rest of the series— how does the young doctor, suffering from depression, on her first day as a medical professional, deal with her feelings of worry for her parents and her exhaustive duties towards the patients? The stigma present towards mental disorders such as depression— does that in some way factor into Parekh’s decreased ability to focus on her duty when in an anxious state of mind about her parents’ situation?
Social realities are taken on by the character of Sujata Ajawale, an impressive young medical intern also on her first day, determined to succeed in her chosen profession. A brief phone call with her parents hints that while she is from a disadvantaged background, Ajawale takes pride in her profession and in making her parents’ efforts worthwhile. Even as she works tirelessly, arguably one of the most persistent and skilled individuals in the emergency room, she faces various incidents of discrimination from patients. Sujata’s character poses an important question regarding the medical professional in a country like India, where the caste system has only been nominally dismissed but persists in an omnipresent manner. While she spares no opportunity to help a patient in need, displaying unparalleled courage and calmness of mind, her qualities are undermined by certain patients who disregard them, preferring to evaluate her capabilities by her caste instead.
Finally, the third medical intern, Ahaan Mirza, is a representation of how the current religious strife in the country does not dissipate even in times of life and death situations, and if anything, worsens. The first blow to the rather innocent and dedicated young doctor comes as he assists with the treatment of a nurse, Anju Varghese, who unfortunately cannot be saved and passes away. Mirza is immediately blamed of fault in death and even assaulted because of his religion. Due to this incident, Mirza seems discouraged for the rest of the night. His efforts to silently ignore such individuals and focus on his duty towards the patients show how medical professionals entering the career from targeted religious groups have to face additional difficulties.
The final character warranting analysis is that of Chitra Das, a social worker at the hospital. A comparison one finds rather interesting— coming from an abusive marriage, Das had to give up her dream of becoming a doctor due to continual discouragement, and despite this lack of empathy she received throughout a lot of her life, she is still able to give a lot of it to the people around her. When the hospital overflows with patients, Das fights for the diagnosis of a beloved aged patient, all while dealing with flashbacks of her own. It is quite evident throughout the film that Chitra admires the medical profession and yearns to be a part of it, regretting her past that has rendered her discouraged from being a doctor despite possessing the qualities to succeed. It highlights how women, even while sometimes being extremely successful at possessing the qualities of being a doctor, are discouraged from having a career.
“Mumbai Diaries 26/11,” through its unique approach to the recollection of one of the world’s worst terrorist attacks, interweaves many relevant social themes through the corridors of the Bombay General Hospital reeling from the 26th November attacks. Terrorism does not discriminate in its inhumanity, but the response to such attacks do— at a time when it is paramount for the medical profession to come together to address the plight of its citizens, it is an unfortunate reality that discrimination, casteism, and religious divides continue to come in the way of humanitarian efforts. Situating the film in the setting of the Bombay General Hospital not only serves to highlight the medical angle to terrorist attacks not often seen, but also augments the emphasis on emotion, grief, and loss as the aftermath of traumatic events, as well as how these themes interact with the socioeconomic truths of our time.
– Aliyah Banerjee, Round Rock High School, Texas