Mumbai, 25 Mar 2022 18:41 IST
Helmed by Ananth Mahadevan, the drama tells a story of an elderly couple who are seeking a dignified, painless exit from this world.
At one point in Ananth Mahadevan's Aata Vel Zaali (It’s Time To Go) when the main characters, an elderly couple, cite increased traffic and pollution due to interminable Metro Mumbai-related construction work as one of their many grounds for requesting active euthanasia, my immediate reaction was to dismiss their reason as an overreaction.
But when returning home from the screening, after being stuck in a snarl I realized maybe their demand to end their lives with dignity was not completely unreasonable. After all, who would want to spend the majority of whatever little time they have left in this world enduring intolerable noise and air pollution, heavy traffic and yearly water-logging?
Seventy-year-old Shashidhar Lele (Dilip Prabhavalkar) and 65-year-old Ranjana Lele (Rohini Hattangadi) are seeking a dignified, painless exit from this world. They don't have any children or close relatives. They both claim to have led a fulfilling life and have no desire to spend the rest of the years existing aimlessly and using the taxpayer's hard-earned money for their pension. They try to convince the world that just like birth, death should be also celebrated and accepted as a part of reality. And if our birth is not in our control, then at least death should be, they claim. Shashidhar has even spent a few years reading many books on this topic and likes to quote various philosophers to prove his point. From writing to the president, to filing a public interest litigation, they do everything they can to convince the world of their unorthodox outlook towards life and death. But their views are met with disbelief and derision.
Euthanasia is a tricky subject to tackle. But the subject must be discussed now, more than ever, due to medical and technological advancements that allow for people to linger on in distressing circumstances. The film even addresses this issue by citing the example of KEM Hospital nurse Aruna Shanbaug who spent 42 years in a vegetative state as a result of sexual assault.
Ananth Mahadevan, who also wrote the screenplay, had opted for a subtle and light-hearted approach. On more than a few occasions, the film uses dark humour to prove its point. The filmmaker also provides some logical and practical reasons for allowing active euthanasia and tries to dispel the moral uncertainty surrounding it. The film also examines the moral arguments commonly presented in the current debate on active and passive euthanasia. But this is not an objective and unbiased dissertation. The filmmaker makes it pretty clear from the beginning that the film supports active euthanasia. And probably that's why except for one or two occasions, we don't get very strong counter-arguments to the couple's assertions.
The film also doesn't have much of a storyline and is just a collection of scenes where the couple is interacting with each other or trying to convince the world about their unorthodox thought process. But the way those scenes have been conceptualized and shot without ever resorting to melodrama, deserves applause. The only issue I had with the film was that it doesn't delve deeper into the moral ambiguity of the complex and controversial subject matter. But perhaps the director wanted to ensure that there was no confusion among the audience as to what the film is trying to convey and hence chose a straightforward approach.
Prabhavalkar and Hattangadi are in each and every scene and the veterans have done complete justice to their characters. Even while carrying out the most mundane activity, they add something that makes it interesting. They are not just husband and wife but also best friends and the way they express their mutual respect and love for each other without uttering a single word deserves to be applauded. They also beautifully express the sense of fulfillment the couple feels, which makes it clear why they would like to end everything on a high note.
Overall, Aata Vel Zaali is a simple yet profound film that examines the right to autonomy.
Aata Vel Zaali was screened at the 12th Yashwant Film Festival on 23 March 2022
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