December 2, 2005

Munnabhai’s message & Iqbal’s impact

I checked out with administrator of a lead hospital , specializing in heart, if he had watched ‘Munnabhai MBBS’, and whether he sensed a social message - ‘Healthcare with humour, and compassion’. His response was, ‘we all know most simple ailments can be complicated with a psychosomatic factor that has to be addressed’. He referred to head-ache, most bowel symptoms, and many other unexplained ones.
Evidently, the Munnabhai storyline has aspects that medical administrators wouldn’t find amusing. But then the movie wasn’t made for their amusement. This Bollywood masala mix obscures its message in clownplay. Our kind of films are not made with social change in mind. In fact, as actor-director Naseeruddin Shah put it at the Goa film festival, ‘I’d write it off (cinema) as a medium of social change’.
Mr Shah appears to have been proved wrong, for once. Iqbal, a film in which he plays a role, has indeed impacted the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) into making a radical addition to its school curriculum. NCERT, taking a cue from Nagesh Kukunoor-directed ‘Iqbal’, plans to teach sign language to std. III students in all NCERT-run schools in the country.
Iqbal is a deaf-mute boy who dreams of playing for India cricket team, as a pace bowler. He has the backing of Khadija, his ten-year-old sister. Kadija learns sign language to interact with Iqbal, and to interpret his hopes and aspirations to the world at large. Learning from Khadija’s example, NCERT has decided to include teaching sign language in its school curriculum. If normal children could learn to communicate with the hearing impaired, the needs of the disabled could be better understood, and the disabled could be fully integrated into the mainstream school environment.
Kamala Balachandran, in her Deccan Herald article, summed it up by saying the NCERT idea is simple, and yet so potent that it could revolutionize the way the next generation of children would look at a disabled person.

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