Director: Anubhuti Kashyap
Writers: Sumit Saxena, Saurabh Bharat, Vishal Wagh, Anubhuti Kashyap
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Rakul Preet Singh, Sheeba Chaddha, Shefali Shah
There’s something about Doctor G. The story – of an entitled young man finding entitlement – follows a familiar trajectory. The setting – a ‘campus comedy’ features him as the only male student in the gynecology department – is stagey. At first glance, this is a formulaic social-message entertainer that does the little things well. The supporting cast, for instance, is spotless. Sheeba Chaddha shines as the boy’s mother once again; Shefali Shah oozes control and authority as the department boss; Puja Sarup is a scene-stealer as the veteran nurse. Muslim characters are not fetishised but normalised. A majority of the patients at the government hospital are Muslim, but their religion feels incidental. Rakul Preet Singh’s Dr. Fatima Siddiqui, too, is a regular female lead; her sense of identity isn’t defined by her name. When the protagonist’s friend reminds him that there might be potential problems if he dated her, his single mother marches into the room and dismisses these dated notions. The film’s wokeness, however, remains more playful – it has an eye on the cultural discourse in this country, but doesn’t flaunt its themes.
Yet, if one digs deeper, Doctor G works for a specific reason. It’s a rare Ayushmann Khurrana movie that functions as a critique – and course-correction – of previous Ayushmann Khurrana movies. It counts on the fact that we walk into the theatre anticipating another noble-but-generic addition to the actor’s oeuvre. And for a while, that’s precisely what we get. The first half of Doctor G unfolds like the Khurrana-trope-generator narrative we’ve come to expect over the years. The toxicity of his character, Uday Gupta, is carefully calibrated – he’s at once a traditionalist who could be worse and a liberal who could be better.
There’s a nod to this stock trait in the film’s very first scene. While chatting with his friend (a delightful Abhay Chintamani Mishr), Uday unironically wonders why his girlfriend is distant even though he’s “a liberal, unlike Kabir Singh”. The subsequent scenes promptly reveal him as a man oblivious of his own casual misogyny. His (ex)-girlfriend accuses him of being too suffocating; he is reluctant to accept a gynecology seat because “it’s a girly profession” and “how can I treat something I don’t have?”; he drunk-dials his ex, blames her for ruining his career and stops short of threatening her; he judges his mother for having a Tinder account; his role model is a predatory cousin (Indraneil Sengupta) who thinks nothing of enticing underaged students. In short, Uday is ripe for rehabilitation – the kind that makes him a better gynecology student, get accepted by his female colleagues and grow a spine. In a more typical film, Uday’s reforming might have been rooted within the campus: deliver a baby in unusual circumstances, find joy in the profession, win the love of the girl, and bam, he’s cured. That’s the Khurrana arc – where illumination is treated as more of a narrative contest than a social ideology. It’s always a neat package, evidenced by a flimsy, animated scorecard (Uday v/s “Streerog vibhag”) flashing on the screen every time Uday is humbled by the women.
But the second half of Doctor G deconstructs this age-old template. It begins where most Khurrana films end, suggesting personal evolution is not limited to the design of a ‘winning’ story. If the first half was the movie we’re conditioned to watch, the second reveals the consequences of choosing to change – it’s rarely as simple as succeeding or failing at something. More than once, we see Shefali Shah’s Dr. Nandini Srivastava cut Uday down to size, even in the moments he thinks he’s owned. Her presence reflects the influence of a female film-maker (Anubhuti Kashyap), and becomes a constant reminder that men and movie characters like Uday are celebrated too easily, often for things as simple as doing their job and not being awful people. They find redemption too readily. They say the monologues too vacantly. Nandini might sound like a joyless disciplinarian, but she is actually a reality check for both Uday and the film’s viewers.
Much of this half proves her right, revealing that improvement is not an absolute condition – it’s a process defined by renovating the past just as much as embracing the future. Uday finds himself in a crisis that not only challenges his deep-rooted complicity but also conveys the frailties of the male-saviour trope. (A far-fetched comparison, perhaps, but Uday’s dilemma brings to mind the moral conflict of the 1997 film, Yes Boss). The writing creates a dramatic situation that pits who he is (a man with a questionable mentor) against who he needs to be (his mother’s son). His bond with Fatima becomes an extension of this battle, and a fresh subversion of all those glorified Bollywood heroes who interpret a girl’s reluctance as a sign of her consent.
Doctor G could have done without a few things – like the end-credits dance track (which defies every single fiber of the film), an on-the-nose monologue or two, and even the broadness of Uday’s sexism. Most Hindi films take the shortcut of presenting a blatantly-flawed protagonist so that the redemption feels tangible. Perhaps if Uday were introduced as a man who is not so obviously guileless, Doctor G might have been a more rewarding story. But there is a lot to appreciate about the decisions the film takes towards the end; there’s never a sense that Uday is a finished product. No matter how far he goes to help someone, his mistakes emerge from a space of misguided masculinity. The film may end, but you suspect that the man is still figuring things out. He is still moving. The road ahead is long, bumpy and pregnant with possibility.