Friday Review

A reflection of frayed minds




Mohan Agashe tells us what pushed him to back “Atsu”, which deals with the growing problem of elderly care.

It happened one morning in the lecture room where students of history had gathered for a lecture on Nazi war crimes. Salil Basu’s (professor of history) lectures were known all over the Dibrugarh University campus, Assam for being not only engaging but also vastly interactive.

The professor looked at his notes and then at the black and white photographs of the holocaust survivors which he wanted to show to his students. He began the lecture but the words in his head were not in English but in Polish, a language he spoke fluently. Few minutes into the lecture, Salil went blank. He couldn’t remember what he had to say. He apologised and dismissed the class. Fifteen years as a professor of history and countless lectures delivered all over the country, Salil found it difficult to remember simple words or form sentences. After consultations with neurologists in Assam and Kolkata, Salil was diagnosed with progressive dementia. After retirement, Salil’s condition steadily worsened. His family struggled to cope with his memory loss, depression and terrible mood swings with limited resource in a small town. The disease was his new invisible companion. Salil died in 2002 after having put up a brave fight for a decade.

Several cases like Salil’s have been referred to Mohan Agashe, noted film and theatre actor and a qualified psychiatrist and founder Director and Professor of the Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health in Pune. As he witnessed the complex struggle of patients and care givers to live with dementia and the stigma attached to the illness, he decided to address the problem cinematically apart from providing right medical treatment for the condition. Agashe teamed up with Sheelaa Rao in 2013 to produce a full length Marathi feature film Astu which simply means ‘so be it’ in Marathi, with a view to draw attention to the growing problem of elderly care, Alzheimer and related dementia. With no publicity at all, Astu opened in one cinema hall in Pune in 2014 and with the help of crowd funding opened in several movie theatres across Maharashtra in July this year. “I am not a politician nor a business man and became a default producer when the film ran into some financial crunch. The subject of this film is close to my heart. So far we have managed to do fifty sponsored shows and people have really loved the film,” said Agashe, who was in Delhi recently for an assignment.

According to Agashe, King’s College London’s The World Alzheimer Report 2015 has pegged the number of people living with dementia to 47 million around the world and 4.1 million live in India. “With the figure expected to rise steadily not only in India but all over the world, we certainly have a huge problem on our hands given the fact that awareness of dementia is low in this country and the stigma attached to the disease makes it difficult for the afflicted and the harassed care givers to find help, emotional support and sustained medical intervention. “My aim was to produce and act in a feature film which offers an authentic but cinematic portrayal of Alzheimer and the burden of care in an engaging and entertaining format to combat stigma. All those who are engaged to provide care of the elderly and members of ADI (Alzheimer Disease International) have explicitly expressed that the film should be shown to the public at large, particularly the young generation,” said Agashe.

The language of image and sound, he said, was understood by both the subconscious and unconscious part of the human mind and that he spent a lot of time trying to educate people about the power of meaningful cinema. “When you make a good film, it heightens your interest in an issue which otherwise would not have caught your imagination. Then learning happens. Films like A Beautiful Mind and Taare Zameen Par dealt with serious issues like paranoid schizophrenia and dyslexia in such a manner that people still remember them not only for great acting but also for the issues that the movies brought out in the open ending decades of silence and stigma.”

From being a much recognised actor in meaningful cinema to becoming a producer-the transition for Agashe has happened by default. According to him life as an actor and a psychiatrist is full of texts and sub texts and he finds the new job of being a producer equally challenging. “Cinema for education under the anaesthesia of entertainment is missing the larger picture of raising awareness for a specific cause. Commercial cinema is also required to preserve our social sleep. Producers like me are like poor farmers who depend on the goodwill of institutions and individuals to help them make cinemas that matter. These days news channels are the place where real entertainment happens,” said Agashe with a broad smile.

Agashe realised that the matrix of film distribution in the country was far more complex than he ever imagined and was learning the tricks of the trade of producing a film. Will the experience of producing alternative and meaningful cinema such as Astu deter Agashe from venturing into producing feature films such as this? “No, not at all. The visual medium is a far more powerful medium than any and is an effective way to raise awareness and educate the masses. I am working on a full length feature film on depression which is reported to affect 350 million people globally and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. By 2020 it will be the second biggest cause of morbidity in the world and am doing what I can to address this growing mental health problem in India.”

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 6:57:55 AM |

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