At a time when filmmakers are keen on exploring female characters that find their way into male bastions, in Doctor G, writer-director Anubhuti Kashyap attempts the opposite, and the result isn’t completely satisfying.
A young male medical graduate from Bhopal ends up doing his masters graduation in gynaecology, due to a number of reasons that are governed by his social conditioning rather than his understanding of the noble profession. One of them is that Uday Gupta (Ayushmann Khurrana) believes his girlfriend sucked up his rank to improve hers. He is sure that a female classmate would swap a ‘male’ branch like orthopedics with his trade that suits only women in his outlook. He only needs to look up the internet to find a number of successful male gynaecologists, but that is out of the syllabus here. And when he attempts to take a break on a false pretext to prepare for next year, his righteous teacher Nandini Shrivastava (Shefali Shah) doesn’t allow him to.
Instead, when he goofs up, she wants him to lose the male touch while treating patients. Dr Nandini’s advice, commonly doled out in medical colleges, is central to the narrative as it not only rattles Uday, but takes the core argument about imagined gender roles and lack of sensitivity beyond the boundaries of hospitals to society at large. A patient can be cured in the hospital, but what about the pathogen of patriarchy that is lurking outside?
Credits to Anubhuti and the co-writers; the idea of finding ‘the right touch’ keeps us invested in the heart-warming second half and prevents the film from getting reduced to a series of humorous situations around a budding male gynaecologist. Though some of that humour works, other situations feel cooked-up to create a scene. However, as the film throttles towards the business end, Anubhuti manages to shed the frills to strike home the point.
Uday represents the set of boys who believe that they understand women, but in reality, have a vestigial understanding of the female mind in truth. Anubhuti credits it to the lack of female company at a young age, and ‘90s cinema which promulgated that a boy and a girl could never be friends. Lyricist Puneet Sharma aptly defines them as Idiot Ashawadi in a peppy composition by Amit Trivedi. In a society where it is taboo for a boy and girl to take a stroll together, Uday is akin to those guys who pretend to listen to girls only when their hormones force them to.
In a kind of spiritual successor to Vicky (Vicky Donor) and Manu (Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui), Ayushmann plays yet another immensely-relatable, flawed character who doesn’t easily come-of-age. Of course, it has become formulaic, but his charm as a fallible guy-next-door is yet to wane. Early in the film, we are told that he is not a Kabir Singh-kind of obsessive lover; Uday is much mellower and casual in his sexist outlook, but this doctor also doesn’t understand the idea of consent or the value of friendship between persons of two different genders.
The bigger picture unfolds through Uday’s undulating relationship with his senior Fatima Siddiqui (Rakul Preet Singh), his single mother Lakshmi Devi (Sheeba Chaddha), and above all, his mentor or big brother (Indraneil Sengupta). Fatima is about to be engaged with a boy from her community and Lakshmi is looking for a companion. The closet chauvinist that he is, Uday takes his own time to listen to the women around him, or as Puneet suggests in the Newton song, the apple takes time to fall.
Though it is the story of Uday’s rise from the pits of patriarchy, Anubhuti doesn’t give a free pass to her female characters either; they also grapple with perceptions and stereotypes. Fatima takes time to decide, and when Uday performs his first delivery, his female classmates celebrate as if he has done something extraordinary. Through the evolution of Uday, Anubhuti touches upon the contentious issue of medical termination of pregnancy in girls on the cusp of adulthood.
Shefali Shah is effective as the voice of reason, while Rakul and Sheeba efficiently fill in the gaps for Uday. It is refreshing to see, for once, a male actor being ragged by girls on-screen or becoming an object of desire, but the problem with such films based on cutting-edge ideas is that the screenplay is eventually reduced to a good old news story, where most of the interesting points regarding a conflict are covered.
We have crossed the bridge where screenwriters have to repeatedly underline that they have created an unusual character or conflict. Now, a mother on a dating site isn’t an unseen idea; the expectation is of nuance. Here, all the adult characters are a tad too direct, as if they were written with the same pen. Like how Nandini throws the code of medical ethics at Uday, every time he transgresses, one wants Anubhuti to lose the journalist’s touch to treat the subject a little more cinematically, and find a little more heft between the lines.
Doctor G is currently running in theatres