Synopsis – Diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Venkatesh is supposed to be sickly and die by the age of 16. Instead, his zest for life, determination and soaring human spirit surprise medical science. The ever-smiling Venkatesh wants to donate his organs before he leaves this world. At 24-years-old, he challenges the state, the law of the country and earns his place in the hearts of people.
My Take – While the concept of Euthanasia, which means the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to end their suffering, has been previously explored filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali‘s criminally under seen Guzaarish (2010) in excellent heart breaking form, but for her latest director Revathi uses the grave subject to instead tell a story of a mother and son, their bond, and how true unconditional love means letting one go and not holding back for one’s own sake.
Anchored by a wonderful set of actors led by the undoubted queen of drama Kajol, here, writer Sammeer Arora frames what is essentially a socially relevant conversation film in the form of a slice of life feature innate with emotional verve and engaging dramatic highs. Resulting in a bitter personal tale that will surely keep one invested in the way it unfolds and concludes.
Based on the book ‘The Last Hurrah’ written by Srikant Murthy, the film is a soft but tragic and sensitive real-life based story which tries its best to take a balanced look at why euthanasia should be favored or opposed. It is a story of love, a broken home, a tragic life, a fight to die with dignity, and of course, a courageous mother and her young son who are living with a single wish in mind.
Yes, the the film’s decidedly somber, with many moments to laugh about, yet it is perfect if you are looking for a good cry.
The story follows K. Venkatesh “Venky”(Vishal Jethwa), a spirited 24-year-old chess player who is afflicted with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) where limbs and muscles continue to degenerate at a steady, irreversible pace. Now lying on his deathbed, Venky wants his last wish to be granted at all costs – the right to go in for euthanasia so that his organs can be donated to patients who need them, before his condition renders them unusable.
Though his dauntless single mother, Sujata (Kajol), opposes his demand at first, but slowly comes around, mainly when she understands his right to die with dignity. Rallied around by his on call doctor Shekhar (Rajeev Khandelwal), a Lawyer named Parvez (Rahul Bose) and a journalist (Aahana Kumra), Sujata goes all out to have the law against mercy killing changed.
This Revathy directed drama sets the tone right for an emotionally charged tale from the word go. And to its advantage, it does not let go of the momentum that is built early on. The film treads lightly so that no point feels hammered in and no emotion underlined. The actors, without exception, follow his cue so the tragedy never descends into melodrama heights.
From the start, the viewer is made aware of the path the film is headed towards and that it won’t be a happy ending of the conventional sort. Several flashbacks are thrown in where we get a glimpse of Venky’s childhood, his troubled relationship with estranged father (Kamal Sadanah), his list of wishes, and his bond with his peers.
Apart from its into-the-face dramatic and tear-jerking moments, it also gives us plenty of reasons to smile about. The film is not on a one-way track to drain the viewers of all emotions but tempers the journey with light-hearted moments and holds our hand through an optimistic ending.
But the most beautiful parts are the relationship between the mother and son and the positive attitude that Venky lives with. He cracks jokes about his condition. There are many delicate scenes, such as when Venky loses his voice and communicates in sign language, and when the journalist gapes at him in awe, his mother sheepishly translates his message. When the judge (Prakash Raj) presiding over the case meets him at the hospital, Sujatha tells him that he may not see it, but Venky’s smiling behind the complete facial muscle movement loss.
In true Bollywood style, there is indeed a love story entangled in the mix. Venky is in love with Nandu (Aneet Padda), who is visually impaired, and sees the world through his eyes, whereas she is his legs. When Venky is on the verge of dying, and he can’t speak, he communicates with Nandini by writing on her hand. It’s so beautiful how even the most strained of love stories can be revitalized by a human touch.
Sure, the film might have done well to play down its debt to films of the past and to shorten its length a bit. Yet, the film as a whole makes its point firmly, clearly and with a lot of heart.
Performance wise, Kajol is in fine form and is the beating heart of the venture. Her understated and controlled portrayal of grief and hope to let her son live through organ donation and, on the other hand, the dilemma of a mother letting her son go will win your heart. Vishal Jethwa has given an incredible performance, probably one of his best. He brings in multi-layered emotions and wit with so much life. This is ironical for a person who so desperately wishes to end it.
In supporting roles, Rahul Bose, Rajeev Khandelwal, Aahana Kumra, Aneet Padda, Riddhi Kumar, Priyamani, Prakash Raj, Anant Mahadevan, and Kamal Sadanah are outstanding. Aamir Khan appears in a small role and is a delight to watch. On the whole, ‘Salaam Venky’ is a deeply humane drama replete with positivity as much as pain.
Directed – Revathi
Rated – PG
Run Time – 137 minutes