Ventilator is so real. At least for someone of my ethnic background and of my family complexity, it feels as though I’m watching family videos. This is as much a compliment as it is criticism, since watching family footage can be, and often is for me, boring and annoying. Sometimes even infuriating. At the same time, nothing is acted or fake. Nothing is put-on, nor has it been placed there to please. It’s real and it’s painful. It’s funny, but suffocating. It’s safe from the outside, and deadly on this inside. And in the same way, Rajesh Mapuskar’s Ventilator is fun for its viewers, but requires keeping its subjects at a safe distance – for getting too close would feel so exhausting that it would end up damaging.
For Ventilator to qualify as a comedy, one needs to approach it as something foreign and aim not to get too caught up in it. Stepping into its story will ruin you, but addressing it the way you would a loud spectacle, or an over-the-top bitter comedy, will keep you safe. It’s so real that I ended up seeking refuge in its moments of Indian exaggeration, the overstated dressing, the theatrical mourning and at times bad acting. Those were, believe it or not, moments of relief for me, as everything else was too tangible and too sore.
An older man has just been taken to hospital and connected to a ventilator in order to keep breathing. His son lets his uncle know, and he in turn, alerts his own son. The nephew then calls the rest of the immediate family, which automatically means that they tell their spouses and children. Soon the neighbours find out, and shortly after that everyone from the village is on their way to the hospital to fill up the waiting room with shouting and crying and laughing and all sorts of loudness and hilarious inappropriate remarks.
The number of relatives alone would make for a comedy on its own – so the fact that every single character is such a caricature only adds to the absurdity and serves to lighten up a very heavy, emotionally, moment. And even though we’re essentially dealing with a moment of loss and having to face the reality of death, seeing how much a man’s illness instantly affects those around him, even those whom he hasn’t seen in a while or others who live far away, is heart-warming. They seem to just always be there now, on the floor below, fighting over money, talking women, obsessing over actors, performing magic tricks, devouring cake and exchanging tips on anything, from x-rays to growing hair out of a bald spot.
Very often people speak on top of one another, take each other’s space on the sofa or push and pull for no apparent reason. This is where the fun as well as the weariness lies. This is a family very specific to its culture, where being unable to properly celebrate the Ganpati festival is causing heavier weeping than a person dying – because this is not just any man, this is the host of the annual celebrations that we are talking about. He can’t just die whenever he pleases, what is going to happen to the festival this year? What is going to be happening to the festival every year from now on?
We never see the famous Ganpati host and ventilator breather, but he serves as a brilliant way to bring all these colourful characters together and unintentionally cause as well as resolve conflicts he doesn’t even know about. The most prominent of those is between the ventilatored man’s brother and his son. It’s a complex relationship that those two enjoy, and one that desperately needs sorting out. But this is not the main reason why we care – it is Satish Alekar that makes it impossible for us to stay out of it. This actor brings Ventilator so much cordiality and even though his presence is almost silent, he speaks to us louder than anyone else. At times I’d cry just looking at him, he wouldn’t even need to speak – that’s how expressive his face was and how understatedly powerful his sadness.
Watch here a trailer of the film: