Sunday, January 16, 2011

“All that is not given, is lost”

City of Joy (1992)
In life a person has three choices: to run, to spectate or to commit.
One day a surgeon named Max Lowe walks away from the operating theater and Houston and everything his life stands for. He's dropping out, and maybe in some kind of leftover '60s reflex he decides to travel to Calcutta. He hopes to disappear into the sea of humanity, I guess, and find himself, or peace, or tranquility - he's not quite sure.
Calcutta has other ideas for him. Within a few hours of his arrival he is thrust into the maelstrom of a city where thousands live in the streets, where he is a highly visible rich man, where his medical training is desperately needed. This film of Roland Joffe is based on "City of Joy," a novel by Dominique Lapierre. In the City of joy Max comes in contact with an Irish woman, named Joan Bethel (played by Pauline Collins), who runs a clinic which ministers to the sick and homeless. When she discovers that Max is a surgeon, she exerts quiet but unrelenting pressure on him to help at the clinic. Max resists at first. But later he becomes a convinced and committed doctor cum social worker standing for the downtrodden people and outcaste lepers of the city.
From other side the story develops through Hazari Pal who once lived in a small village in Bihar, India, with his dad, mom, wife, Kamla, daughter, Amrita, and two sons, Shambhu and Manooj. As the Pal was unable to repay the loan they had taken years ago from a moneylender, their land and property were auctioned, and they were rendered homeless. Hazari and his family re-locate to Calcutta with hopes of starting life anew, save some money and go back to Bihar, as well as get Amrita married. Things do not go as planned, as they lose their entire savings to a con-man, Gangooly, who took their money as rent by pretending to be a landlord. Then Hazari gets an opportunity to take up driving a rickshaw manually through a local godfather, Ghatak. Meanwhile Hazari gets to meet Dr. Max and together they strike up a friendship along with Joan Bethel. Misunderstandings crop up between Joan and the Godfather, resulting in the shutting down of their shanty medical clinic. When Hazari sides with Joan, his rickshaw is taken away. Things get worse when the Godfather passes away, leaving his estate to his way-ward son, Ashok Ghatak, who has plans to do away with the slums, especially the lepers who have now started frequenting the locality.
It is the story of a hopeless people who can simply fall into despair; still who live on struggle and glimpses of hope, and much more on the goodness of heart. Dr. Max who arrives in the “city of joy” depressed by the complex life and relations of a plentiful and bureaucratic society of America at the very outset of the film begins to fit in with his fellow slum-dwellers. And he begins to see that his life isn't half bad. There are many around him whose lives are much worse, but they look on each day with a hope that gives new strength to the depressed doctor. (Edited from three review article on the film)

Maybe the world if meant to break your heart. From the moment we're born we're shipwrecked, struggling between hope and despair.” (From ‘City of Joy”)
A man once asked Diogenes what was the proper time of supper, and he made the answer: “If you are a rich man, whenever you please; and if you are poor whenever you can.” And above all the age old saying comes to us thus: “Hope is a poor man’s bread.”

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