We are all familiar with the words mercy killing or euthanasia. It is illegal in India. We are conditioned to hope for life even if one is terminally ill or in a vegetative state. In fact, humans are known for their perseverance. But, how would you react if two healthy individuals, who are mobile and can do all their chores by themselves, including climbing up and down the stairs, work ardently to choose euthanasia?
That is exactly what filmmaker Sumira Roy’s film Bhangaar: Obsolete is all about. The film captures the incessant pursuit of death by an octogenarian couple — Irawati and Narayan Krishnaji Lavate — in Maharashtra.
The hour-long film is slow and with no frills but is made as realistically as possible. Yet, the visuals are captivating and evoke every kind of emotion in you as a viewer, especially if you have lost someone young to a terminal disease or accident. Narayan who is 89 years old in the film, somehow convinces 80-year-old Irawati to go in for a joint euthanasia. The childless couple even write to the President seeking permission to allow them to put an end to their “misery, and wish to die in dignity.”
The film juxtaposes the couple’s desire for death with powerful images of life and creation. For instance, just when Narayan shocks you with his first dialogue saying he wants to die, the director shifts focus to raw clay lumps of hands, torso and a trunk, which are deftly crafted by an artisan to create a beautiful idol of Ganesha. The entire film speaks in varied levels of contrasts — life and death, grey vs colour, light and shadows, fast paced and a couple that comes across as literally trapped in a different time zone.
Sumira says it all started when she lost her mother a few years ago. “A year before she passed away she started talking about dying with dignity. She was a young widow, who lived her entire life independently. But as she aged she developed a few issues that also led to stress; she also couldn’t drive anymore. My mother not only found this tough to deal with, but she also went through a hard time before her passing. Every time she spoke about assisted killing or death, I would be petrified and ignore what she said.”
“It was only after her passing that I came across an article in the newspaper about a couple who had sought permission for euthanasia. I went to meet them just to find some closure for my own personal loss. It was only after I met the couple and decided to make the film that I understood the term ‘dying with dignity,” says Sumira over a call from her residence in Bandra.
About the couple’s choice, Sumira says: “They are the custodians of the entire chawl that they live in. They are not the type of people who will starve themselves to death or jump off a building. It is not just focusing on them choosing mercy killing, but about what leads to that decision. Illness always presides over death,” says Sumira, who spent four-and-a-half-years with the couple to shoot the film.
Sumira also believes “everyone talks about young India, but we have the old who are growing three times faster than the young. We have zero palliative or geriatic care here. Unless you are rich, you cannot afford these. We also hear about eldery abuse, which triggers off many negative emotions in the elderly. Looking after the elderly is a learned behaviour. The best instance I can give is the pandemic, which isolated even youngsters within four walls. I feel that is the closest we can come to understanding what this couple and many others go through.”
She asks, “How many of us really think about what the elderly feel? Even in the film, we see Narayan and Iravati standing in the balcony, yet the youth just passes by them, making the couple feel invisible. That must have been the hard for the duo.”
Bhangaar is in Marathi and English language and is produced by Sumira along with Monisha Advani (Emmay Entertainment), Apoorva Bakshi and Monisha Thyagarajan (Awedacious Originals) along with Uma da Cunha and Siddhant Sarin (Teh Films) as co-producers; and has cinematography by Ishani Roy.
Bhangaar, which will also be screened at the TRUE/FALSE 2024 (documentary film festival) on February 29, has been selected for the International Documentary & Short Film Festival Kerala, International Film Festival of India and Beyond Borders Feminist Film Festival.
The film will be screened in Bengaluru on February 10, 4pm at Bangalore International Centre. Sumira will be in talks with Nidhi Chawla (co-founder of Silver talkies) post the screening. For details and registrations, visit BIC website.