Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946)

A poster of the film. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: 17dfr Dr Kotnis

This black and white feature film dates back to 1946, when filmmaker-actor V. Shantaram bravely based his film on the real-life adventure of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis. Digressing from the mainstream melodrama, he chose to bring back the glorious and ideological journey of Kotnis to China. The film progresses effortlessly and engages the audience thoroughly.

Ably backed by the writer duo K.A. Abbas and V.P. Sathe, the biopic of Dr. Kotnis relives that incredible era of historywhen a contingent of Indian doctors, propelled by a noble humane thought, volunteered medical assistance and travelled all the way to China to assuage the wounds of war victims.

The story opens with a rapturous welcome to the hero returning home after completing his medical studies. Dr. Kotnis (V. Shantaram) has his mother rolling out laddoos for him while his father has a big surprise lined up for his beloved son. He has set up a dispensary for him in town that awaits inaugural. But much to his parents' disappointment, Dr. Kotnis declares his intent of travelling to China to help the war victims.

Inspired by a fiery speech by an Indian leader in Mumbai, he has vowed to follow of the path of service. Unlike the despotic parents seen in films years later, here are parents who are equally idealistic and they back their son in his unique endeavour whole-heartedly. Dr. Kotnis sets sail with four other Indian doctors – via Sri Lanka and Singapore, the doctors land up in the Chinese province of Chunking which is bombarded mercilessly by the Japanese.

The contingent of Indian doctors provides relentless medical aid, so much so that they are soon likened to Gautam Buddha who centuries ago had come from India providing balm to their tormented souls.

While the rest of the Indian doctors return to India owing to their ill health, Dr. Kotnis carries on his medical mission zealously. He's attached to an army unit led by General Fong (Baburao Pendharkar) and by now he has also acquired an effeminate assistant whom he back slaps heartily all the time. And soon it is revealed that the assistant is but a charming Chinese damsel Ching Lan (Jayashree). Disguised as a man, she is a medical student on the run from the bloody Nanking Massacre where her entire family had perished. Dr. Kotnis brings her out of her disguise as well as depression.

A short and sweet romance follows. A cute romantic dialogue deserves a special mention here. When Ching Lan asks Dr. Kotnis if he would have sugar in his tea, he replies saucily, “Yeh to Chini chai hai, waise hi meethi hogi. Hindi mein shakkar ko chini kehte hain. Shayad isi liye tumhari baten itni meethi hain.”

As in real life, so in the film Dr. Kotnis marries his Chinese paramour and they dedicate themselves to military medical service with full ardour. Right on their wedding night, their camp is bombed by the Japanese and they are required to help the injured soldiers.

Selfless service

During the war, plague breaks out and the brave Dr. Kotnis finds a remedy to this lethal epidemic by experimenting on himself as he injects the infection from a patient's pustule into himself and discovers the use of antibodies. He is assisted by his pretty wife all along. She also delivers their baby boy (played by Rajshree, Shantaram's real daughter who became a noted heroine later in the day). Dr. Kotnis is hailed by the Chinese for his selfless service and just then he hears that India has been attacked by the Japanese and he would now be required back home. He's all set to return with his wife and infant son when the rigours of years of war take its toll and he succumbs to it. But his wife does make a homeward journey to present his son to his awaiting mother.

The film has been shot brilliantly by V. Avdhoot and Vasant Desai's lilting music adds zest to the proceedings. At times he even uses Chinese instruments and tunes.

As for the performances, V. Shantaram's commanding screen presence dignifies Dr. Kotnis' persona appropriately, but the vulnerable heroine Jayashree turns out to be the surprise package of the film — she's delightfully charming and glamorous.

To the credit of the director, the film retains its engaging tempo all through. The not-so realistic Chinese make-up of Jayashree, Baburao Pendharkar and the rest doesn't really seem so jarring as the story takes over and sweeps you in its grand flow. A good watch for those who talk about “hatke” themes.

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 12:10:32 PM |

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