Should every person have the right to die with dignity? Is Euthanasia truly an ethical alternative for patients who are terminally ill? Should the state consider Euthanasia as a viable option for opening avenues for organ donation for other patients? Are there even enough conversations happening around the issue of organ donation? India is probably one of the biggest markets for organ harvesting, yet people have to wait for years when it comes to transplants because it is mostly a world of black marketing, but that would surely be an interesting subject for another film. “Salaam Venky” raises the aforementioned questions in your mind. But in its essence, it is a true biopic. Based on the book “The Last Hurrah” by Shrikant Murthy, the film records the real-life events of a young chess player, Kolavennu Venkatesh.
Venkatesh was terminally ill with a degenerative disease named Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy that limits the life of an individual to their teens. The film records the struggle of Venkatesh’s mother, Sujatha, as she fights for her dying son’s right to die even faster. In the course of the film, we learn what a force of nature Venky was! The film’s heartwarming premise readies you to yank your tears, but it is quite disappointing when, in the end, despite convincing acting performances, the viewer receives no cathartic satisfaction. Revathy, who is probably one of the greatest actors in contemporary Indian cinema, directs this film.
Sameer Arora is credited for the adapted screenplay, with Kausar Munir writing the additional screenplay. Make sure they present Venky as a character who is enamored by Bollywood films. Both Venky and his mother are seen quoting Anand’s dialogue about a long life from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1970 classic “Anand,” featuring the first Indian superstar of Indian cinema, Rajesh Khanna. It is obvious that Anand, who is terminally ill with intestinal cancer, will be Venky’s favorite character. But the film becomes obsessed with proving Venky’s right for Euthanasia, and despite all its sentimentality, it loses its emotional connection with the viewer. When it comes to Euthanasia in Hindi cinema, one is immediately reminded of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent film “Guzaarish,” which similarly failed to establish an emotional connection with the audience because of its larger-than-life canvas.
“Salaam Venky” can be believed to be pitted in the very opposite direction, which tells the story of a middle-class family’s struggles. That is where the problem lies; it is all about the struggles, and the makers miss the silver linings of Venkatesh’s life. His achievement of organizing a chess meet and even meeting the Chess Master Viswanathan Anand are reduced to footnotes in the film. The film is advocated to be a musical by the “Aashiqui 2” famed music director Mithoon and that is what this melodramatic saga becomes reduced to. When Venky is taking his last breath, he requests his mother to sing him a song instead of a low humming lullaby as would be the demand of a situation like that. Unlike what is expected, Sujatha is seen singing a full-fledged song in a style that essentially reflects Bollywood.
In all honesty, the film looks like a lost opportunity for advocating disability rights. It misses showing the life of an individual who is trapped in a wheelchair and stays confined as a hospital drama that oscillates towards a legal battle for the fundamental human right to die with dignity. The film was released on December 9, 2022, but it tanked at the box office. What seemed like a great idea on paper failed to land a proper delivery. Yet it had some good and some stellar acting performances, and their efforts deserved to be mentioned. Here is a list of characters, along with details about the cast members who play them:
Kajol As Sujatha
Losing a young child must be an unimaginable pain for the mother. But perhaps it would be harder for the mother to know that her child is terminally ill and will only deteriorate before her taking his last breath. The character demands emotional vulnerability. But Sujatha shows a lot of resilience too. In order to give her son a shot at life, she divorces her husband, who thinks her son is just a bad investment. She leaves her husband’s home and starts living at an ashram. She undertakes menial jobs there just so that she can help keep him alive a little longer. When Venky is admitted to the hospital for one last time, she realizes that she was trying to teach him to fight his illness for a selfish reason. After the dawn of this realization, she fights for her son’s demand for Euthanasia. Sujatha is a supportive mother who would go down any hell hole to save her son, although she may not be as fierce as Dull Gret from the Richard Breughel painting “Dulle Griet.”
Kajol is seen yanking out her tears in practically every scene she appears on the screen. She sets up a tough job for all her co-actors—that is, her flawless but sometimes high-octave melodramatic performance is hard to be topped by anyone from the cast. She is extremely convincing while channeling all her maternal instincts into being a loving, caring, nurturing single parent for whom her son is her world. But she is not hesitant to let him go because she understands his pain. Kajol is a Hindi cinema veteran and is known for delivering blockbusters like “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” “Fanaa,” “My Name Is Khan,” and many more.
Vishal Jethwa As Venky
With his mother’s resilience and his love for life, Venky is a chess genius and an inspiration. He is adorable and reminds us of Shah Rukh’s Aman in “Kal Ho Naa Ho,” and incidentally, he even quotes Aman’s dialogue from the film too. He wanted to die by Euthanasia so that he could render his organs useful after his death. In a tone of sentimentality, he discloses that he would have liked to donate his organs so that he could stay alive in someone else’s heartbeat. His appeal for Euthanasia remains ungranted, but his case sparks a conversation that leads judge Anupam Bhatnagar (played by Prakash Raj) to try and change the law and make Euthanasia legal for terminally ill patients. Though he died in 2004, it was not until 2018 that the Supreme Court of India passed the judgment that every man had the right to die with dignity and that passive Euthanasia is separate from murder.
Vishal Jethwa does a fantastic job. Earlier, he gave a groundbreakingly villainous performance in YRF’s “Mardaani 2.” He breaks his mold of a villain and emerges to be a hero in this adaptation of Kolavennu Venkatesh’s life.
Rajeev Khandelwal As Dr. Shekhar Tripathy
Dr. Shekhar Tripathy has been treating Venkatesh for over eight years. In spite of being a medical professional, he supports his claim of Euthanasia because his death would also help other people survive via organ donation.
Rajeev Khandelwal is always pitch-perfect with his characters, and this film is no different. He delivers with ease. Rajeev Khandelwal was a household name in the 2000s—he was a daily soap regular and delivered commendable performances in films like “Aamir,” “Shaitan,” and “Table No. 21.”
Rahul Bose As Parvez
Parvez is Venky’s lawyer, fighting his case to give him the right to Euthanasia. He is empathetic towards Venky and understands the urgency of the situation. There is an inherent positivity and calmness to Parvez’s character, and he fights his case against Nanda Kumar (played by Priyamani) with the utmost dignity.
Rahul Bose has acted in some of most critically acclaimed films like “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer,” “Chameli,” “Jhankaar Beats,” and most recently “Dil Dhadakne Do.” He has also taken the director’s chair for the biopic drama film “Poorna.”
Ahana Kumra As Sanjana
Venky knew about the power of journalism. In order to make the court take rapid action to expedite his Euthanasia, he and Parvez decide to involve Sanjana, who is a journalist. Sanjana’s efforts to bring Venky’s story to the entire world would make the public aware of the benefits of organ donation and raise awareness that Euthanasia is not necessarily murder.
Ahana Kumra is a popular name when it comes to Indian web series. She delivered notable performances in “Lipstick Under My Burkha,” Netflix’s “Call My Agent,” and Khuda Hafiz. Aamir Khan has an unexpected cameo in the film. “Salaam Venky” is now streaming on Zee5.
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