IFFLA Diary 2011: Ganesh Boy Wonder

By Shekhar Deshpande • Published on April 17, 2011

[S]rinivas Krishna’s documentary from Canada is striking visually for a broad set of reasons. But the Canadian filmmaker has done much more than make an impression with the choice of his subject for the work; he has opened up a broader set of themes, some of them clearly known best to himself or to the intensions expressed in this film.

A couple in Karnataka appeals to Lord Ganesh for a boy, quite a common practice in belief-based culture of ours. The God obliges and the couple is rewarded with a son. There is serious birth defect with the son, who appears to have a tissue outgrowth between his eyes and over his nose that makes him look like he has a trunk and therefore a similarity with the appearance of Ganesh. The parents name him Ganesh. Not a usual case of odd congenital problem, the case attracts attention, gradually from a local reporter then a television station, then public at large and the entrepreneur who owns the network that shows his case, Mr. Ramoji Rao, a powerful investor, businessman, media tycoon (owner of the largest film studio in the country) and one of he the richest men in South India.  The news spreads fast as it reaches Canada. There an Indian plastic surgeon, from Bluewater Surgical Center takes interest in the case, in part at the urging of Ramoji Rao. They visit India with a medical team of their own, partially funded by the donors to their charity. The surgery takes place in an “NRI” hospital near Bangalore. This state of the art facility handles the surgery well, with the deft skills of the surgeons and the boy gets his appearance restored. The large outgrowth is removed and the surgeon returns to conduct follow up procedure.

This is a gripping tale. Watching is a mixed experience, provoked by many thoughts, associations and questions. It is filmed in an engaging way, focusing on the boy himself and his problem but also on the family, its preoccupations, their social place, the poverty, their abiding faith in Ganesh as well as the cool, dedicated skills of the Indian doctor who comes from Canada and takes on a formidable challenge, mainly to improve the life of a young boy and his family, partly to “give something back” and presumably to also prove that his skills can solve what seem to be insurmountable problems. Camerawork is skillful, appropriately indulgent in details that are factual but also staying with emotions that make up for so much of such events. Watching the film is a mixed experience of watching a PBS or BBC Science documentary on medicine and an ethnographic tale of a culture that copes with issues like these with adequate dedication to faith and to science since the doctors themselves seem to come as some form of incarnations of godly beings.

And that is the central achievement of the film. If this is a film about the birth defect and how it may be cured with the advanced medicine in the hands of people who have both the skills and the compassion then this is also about faith in the gods and how it clashes with the modernity of medicine and technology. At one point, the mother of the Ganesh boy says they never got angry with Ganesh for giving them a boy like that. And, right there in the modern hospital, hours before the surgery, the family and their friends conduct a pooja of Ganesh to make sure all goes well. After the surgery, the father says he would never forget these doctors because they are like gods to him. And yet another point in the film, the mother also says that one cannot ask Ganesh to do everything; we have to do our own share, put in our own efforts and then he obliges.

There is on one hand a clash between modernity and faith in this film and on the other, a supreme faith in gods and otherworldly blessings that could transform all kinds of help as if it were a divine intervention. Even science, medicine and surgery are gods’ creations and doctors and surgeons merely their incarnations to carry the tasks to completion. The film does not make it all easy but it does present these questions in its narrative, without ever taking a stand on any aspect. That ought to be its strongest merit.

A film festival about Indian films in the heart of Los Angeles, this is by implication, an event in the diaspora and as such, it begs the question how the diaspora plays a role in film making activities. The filmmakers themselves could be diasporic film makers, or the films themselves could represent the issues of immigrants or some such variations on these. It is a marked feature of the India-diaspora-film production axis that all the elements seem to be fused into each other now. Even the Bollywood films, which thankfully are not the main fare here, have adapted diasporic issues, while a bright and growing body of diasporic–first generation and others–film makers in this country are making films here. Here is a Canadian film, by an Indian filmmaker in Canada, about a family-medical issue in India, beckoning an Indian plastic surgeon from India, who performs the procedure in an NRI established facility in India; the confluence is impressive. The example of this film almost makes all the older categories irrelevant since the boundaries between one and the other have become ever more impermeable than ever.

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