Director: Anubhuti Kashyap
Writers: Sumit Saxena, Saurabh Bharat, Vishal Wagh, Anubhuti Kashyap
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Rakul Preet Singh, Sheeba Chaddha, Shefali Shah
“Will you be my second chaddi (underwear)?” is not a question that a woman gets asked regularly and this line could easily have landed with the graceless thud of wannabe comedy which tries too hard and fails even harder. Yet when this dialogue is delivered in director and co-writer Anubhuti Kashyap’s Doctor G, it’s met with giggles. It’s a punchline that Doctor G has been building up to since the film’s first scene. And we all laugh — as much at the line as with relief at realising it is still possible to enjoy, and not be lectured by, a film starring Ayushmann Khurrana.
If you’ve read to this point, you may be considering looking up Doctor G’s trailer. Don’t. Rarely has the promotional material for a film been so wildly at odds with the film itself. From the trailer, Doctor G seems like an awkward romantic comedy with laboured jokes about a young man named Uday Gupta, who is the only male student in a gynaecology department. Playing in the background is a tune that sounds like it’s been plucked off a demo made by a Badshah fan. Fortunately, the film hits none of the predictable marks that the trailer suggests it will. While Doctor G is the story of the lone, male, gynaecology student and it has its share of clichés, after a long time we’ve got a film with both a good script and good editing. Gentle, charming, idealistic and firmly rooted in the Indian middle class, Kashyap’s directorial debut is reminiscent of Hrishikesh Mukerjee’s delightful comedies from the Seventies.
Uday (Khurrana) is a medical student ranked at 655. It’s not high enough to get into orthopaedics, but he does manage to get a seat in the gynaecology department at Bhopal Institute of Medical Sciences. His plan is to spend the year revising so that he can retake the examination and get into orthopaedics next year. Dr. Nandini Srivastav (Shefali Shah) is having none of that. She makes it clear to Uday that her department is for dedicated students and Uday is the first with a rank below 500 to have made it in. Unimpressed by his dismissive attitude, she orders him to take gynaecology seriously. However, part of Uday’s problem is that no one else takes him seriously. His fellow doctors — all women, led by Dr. Fatima Siddiqui (Rakul Preet Singh) — make fun of him and on his first day, he’s made to wear a ghagra and subjected to gentle ragging. Nurse Sunita (Puja Sarup) loudly announces Uday’s not a real doctor. Patients yank his chain in many ways and soon enough, “Last Man Standing” (as Dr. Nandini has dubbed him) is being beaten up by a patient’s husband and the subject of a departmental enquiry. As if all this wasn’t enough, Uday also has to wrap his head around the uncomfortable knowledge that his mentor Ashok (Indraneil Sengupta) is romancing a schoolgirl and his mother Shobha (Sheeba Chadha) has set up a profile for herself on Tinder.
Not all the humour in the early parts of Doctor G land, but it does the business of setting the scene well. It took four writers to come up with the idea of naming a gynaecologist in-training “Dr. KLPD” and find ways to use phrases like “vestigial organ” and “male touch” in regular conversation. They don’t always succeed, but fortunately, the actors are able to make most of the dialogues work. Ultimately, the joy of this film is in the relationships that it establishes. Doctor G is about a young man growing up, but it’s also a story of unexpected friendships. The revelations in Uday’s life — and there are many — come in everyday moments which push him to look past preconceived notions and respect the choices that have been made by the people around him. Kashyap doesn’t take the shortcut of overlaying a song on a montage of wordless scenes with two people getting to know one another. Instead, we hear characters actually talk. When was the last time that happened in a Bollywood movie?
With stories like Doctor G, there’s always the fear that the film will be a checklist of political correctness. To Kashyap’s credit, Doctor G has practically everything you’d expect from that list (except an LGBTQIA reference), but none of it feels like tokenism. Yes, there’s a unity-in-diversity quality to the gynaecology department, with its one Muslim, one Christian and one Tamil doctors, but they’re all given personality and credibility. Uday’s batchmates may be bit parts in Uday’s story, but it never feels as though they exist solely for his benefit. Everyone around Uday lives their own life and have their own motivations, just like he does. Khurrana is on familiar territory as the bumbling, small-town lad who thinks he’s broadminded enough and lets us know early on that he’s no Kabir Singh. It’s just that the world — meaning the women in his life — are hell bent on misunderstanding him. Khurrana plays Uday with the natural ease you’d expect since he’s played variations of this role at least eight times in his filmography (so far). It helps that he’s surrounded by a fabulous supporting cast. Shah is stellar as the unflinchingly stern Nandini Srivastav who reminds both Uday and the audience that the bar is set very low for men. Chadha as Uday’s mother murmurs zinging one-liners and presents a wonderful portrait of a middle-aged woman who has discovered the internet and is not afraid of using it. Even Rakul Preet Singh comes across as charming. Minor characters like Sarup as the grumpy head nurse and Abhay Mishr as Uday’s best friend are memorable and endearing.
Doctor G isn’t short on plot points. Big things happen in Uday’s life. At one point, he practically steals an ambulance; there’s an emergency surgery, and two people get tight slaps within a 20-minute segment. Uday gets to display some traditional heroism in episodes like the late-night, high-speed race to the hospital, but Doctor G’s shiniest moments are the quiet ones in which Uday realises the error of his ways. This isn’t accompanied by an orchestral flourish or grandstanding, but simple actions that show Uday has accepted his mistake and made a change. Doctor G’s script grants everyone the grace of open-mindedness. People make mistakes, which they acknowledge and learn from; and others grant them forgiveness and another chance. Rather than the sharp binaries and angularities that characterise so much of our present-day conversations about toxic gender stereotypes, Doctor G goes the Hrishikesh Mukherjee route and opts for tenderness and optimism.
Keeping all this in mind, it’s mystifying that Doctor G got an ‘A’ rating from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), especially since the film has no graphic scenes or crude language. Apparently, the story of a man learning from his mistakes is an idea that only adults should be exposed to, according to the CBFC. Meanwhile, films like Liger, with its rabid misogyny, and Code Name: Tiranga, with its senseless violence, are considered wholesome viewing for all ages. That’ll teach the kids.