I finished walking back from memories as soon as the film finished.

I breathed into the part of me, that was unseen. Invisible. The one I nursed back into life, every time it gave up… Everytime, I knew no other part of me to exist but this one…

Placebo as a film. Runs deep inside a person’s skin. Obviously it comes out of laboured pain and sorrow. And it waits to find witnesses in India.

With the pedestal Doctors are put on, morally in our society, as a child I wanted to be one too. I knew what was better for me. So, when the time came to choose, My failure at Math and science led me elsewhere. Not that the profession I am in, doesn’t give me moments of keeping on, when the going gets tough.

The trailer looked like nothing I had seen before. It haunted me. I watched it again and again, shutting it off just before the appeal for money. Because I wasn’t one to have, I could definitely not have been the one to give.

The trailer released on 2013, and almost 2 years later, I cued up, 2 hours before to watch Placebo. Wondering at the response another friend had given me after having watched it at the MAMI film festival.

Me – Kaisi thi?

Friend – Phewww!!! (sighs) Don’t miss it…

The film started when Director Abhay Kumar; was visiting his brother at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. His brother manages to hurt himself in a rare, uncharacteristic act of losing control over his emotions. And as Abhay says; in several interviews about the film; to deal with personal issues, he picks up the camera. Holding it up between himself and the world. And he decides to look into, his brother’s college.

How did… what happened… happen?

Abhay refers to this as being UNDERGROUND with 4 of the brightest minds of the country.

The film opens with a black and white, pale and cold footage of 4 mice on a wire. Being put on the wire, clenching the wire with every bit of life it has left by the gloved hands, presumably inside a laboratory. A few more images that tell you an experiment is about to unfold in front of your eyes. And it starts.

The film tells me, narrating in first person; why he starts following these 4 students who study at AIIMS. Of everything else, the self-awareness, and the manner in which the person behind the camera is invested in his surrounding world of the film, is what makes this film stand out. He does not attempt to be the omnipresent narrator. He only knows as much as I know, as the audience. He chalks out exactly from where he speaks… sometimes letting the 4 students poke fun at or dismisss the person behind the camera. Metaphorically thus, turning the camera to face himself.

We peek into their lives, as Abhay starts to get to know them. As they start to slowly negotiate themselves with the person behind the camera as well as the camera itself. At one point one of the students turns around and calls the camera ‘WEIRD’. This part of the film is a light humorous decoy, to unsuspecting audiences. An initiation I daresay.

Slowly, they start confessing to him, to us; their individual stories. Each of them speak with pride at the beginning of the film at being in this prime institute of the country. They almost sound cock sure. Self-aware of the difference between themselves and the rest of the world; because the acceptance to an institution with 0.1% acceptance rate, propels students to be the happiest they have ever been. They tell their story of how this was a dream, and they achieved it. And Now what?

Now they study to be doctors.

I peek into their most memorable times as doctors. They tell us, one by one, each of them getting more and more comfortable with the camera. The day I saved that infant’s life one of them says. And he says, I keep looking back. Even that day, after I saved the baby’s life. I wondered, if this was my dream. I was in it. I had saved a life.

On another occasion the same Student talks to the camera. Narrating an incident, where like the filmmaker’s brother; he also lost control over his emotions. And he hurt himself in an aggressive incident of self harm. From that day on till today, a minor non utilitarian action by his fingers doesn’t happen. While narrating the incident, he flits between his own role as the doctor and the patient. He tells us the exact nerve that has been damaged. It’s medical name. He tells us the loss of the function; which holds no purpose or utility in the daily life of a human being. But flitting back to being the human being; he says. “But, when you cant do it… THIS is all you can think about doing”.

The invisible boy, remains elusive to  Abhay Kumar. As our story, keeps returning to dark animation sequences within the hostel.

Director, Abhay  Kumar

Director, Abhay Kumar

This was the in. As interviews inform me;  Archana the associate Director and editor of the film says the invisible boy was how the film became the ‘hybrid’ documentary that it is. According to me. As I sit at the receiving end of a breath stopping cinematic journey; the invisible boy could well have been the elephant in the room. Maybe not even a person, but the demon within all of us. That cant help but only react, to situations they’re stuck in.

The invisible boy, makes the issue every run of the mill documentary film chases; more personalised.

At the discussion, Abhay Kumar tells us, when some of us manage to shake off the nightmares the film brought forth; and ask questions; that this film came from very emotional and perhaps not very understood or definable emotions. He says, at such a point a film needs an ‘outsider’s eye’.

This was Archana Phadke to the film, as associate director, and associate editor. Although as inextricably emotionally involved as she sat for a year exhaustively watching the footage, inch by inch. Objective editing; with Deepa Bhatia as consulting editor, brought out a film which is every penny worth the labour pains it might’ve taken to be born.

A ‘failed’ crowdfunding project as the filmmakers called it. The support of the Finnish govt. and 82 odd companies that jumped in to make the film happen finally made the post production and the animation sequences of the film possible.

As the third collaborator on the project, came in the form of the music director of the film; Shane Mendonsa. The sound of the handycam was worked upon by Finnish sound designers. Abhay informs us, by adding on to the already present noise was the only way the sound recorded by the camera could be legibly heard. As the guerrilla shot footage was all they had to tell the story in the beginning.   

Without revealing much more from the film, I’d highly recommend the film as a must watch.

It’s a lesson for all cinema makers, on how challenges of technology and finances are finally overcome if you doggedly believe in your project and keep looking for ways out.

Moreover, we must all watch the film as a country; to be able to understand and contextualise all the ongoing student protests in the country, on various issues. To come somewhere closer to the truths of the gruelling standards the market sets upon its students. The pound of flesh it asks for in return of the education.

One must also watch PLACEBO to finally feel numb parts of you come alive. Which had gone to sleep long ago… unseen, unnoticed, invisible; because you had to keep on keeping on. As if time could stop and a person could look back into their journey of life.      

– Avalokita