A documentary film on the life of a disabled person has every chance of becoming a sob story, especially if made by a family member. “Still Standing” triumphs on this score. Pankaj Johar — who won the Dadasaheb Phalke Chitranagari Trophy for the best debut director in the international competition section of the 12th Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films (MIFF) — does not allow the personal to overshadow down the professional in his film based on his father Rajinder Johar’s life.
Johar senior’s story is inspiring, to say the least. Shot by a colleague soon after joining as a physiotherapist in Lucknow’s King George’s Medical College way back in 1986, a bullet injury in the spine meant he was completely bedridden for the rest of his life. After an initial phase of depression, he chose to live life. And how!
He started what is known as Family of Disabled (FoD), an NGO that has over the years provided help to thousands of disabled people in Delhi to be self-dependant. From his bed, Johar coordinates a team that provides help to disabled people from various strata of society.
The film, structured as a simple narrative, captures Johar’s life as Pankaj has seen it over the years – how he fought his own demons and overcame them, how he started his mission to help others and, how through his own life, he has inspired many. But Pankaj has completely eschewed all things personal. It must have been quite a tough task for the son, but Pankaj has remained focused on his father’s inspirational role in society, refusing to let the film peek even once into the family’s travails over the years.
The film encompasses two parallel narratives actually. One is the life of Rajinder Johar itself – how he fought destiny and turned it into his favour. And the other is how he has played an inspirational role in changing the lives of others. “Still Standing” starts with the visual of a bed-ridden Johar meeting streams of people. From there, it moves into his daily life and also the lives of people like disabled artists Sheila and Imamuddin or roadside tea stall vendor Sabina, who lost her legs in an accident as a child.
The film is minimalistic in its visual design, and has obviously been made on a very limited budget; Pankaj Johar quit his job as an accountant to make this film. Where it scores is its inspirational tone, which comes clearly from the protagonist.
Bottomline: inspirational rather than emotional cinema