A story of real heroes
Harshal Tukaram Pandve
Dr Prakash Baba Amte: a real hero, Producers: Golden Globe and Samruddhi Porey, Director: Samruddhi Porey. Marathi with English subtitles, 126 minutes, 2014.
The Marathi film, Dr Prakash Baba Amte: a real hero is the inspiring story of a doctor couple which has been working for the welfare of the tribal community in Hemalakasa, one of the most difficult tribal terrains in India, for decades and is still going strong. The two have worked tirelessly and without harbouring any expectations.
The film begins with the visit of a few international journalists to Hemalakasa. They have come to interview Dr Prakash Amte (Nana Patekar) and his wife Dr Mandakini Amte (Sonali Kulkarni), and to familiarise themselves with the Lok Biradari Project, one of the initiatives taken by the couple. This project was inspired by Dr Prakash Amte’s father, the late Baba Amte, the Gandhian who started “Anandwan”, a home for leprosy patients, when the disease was seen as a curse.
Dr Prakash and Dr Mandakini had first come to Hemalakasa with some colleagues after completing their medical education a few decades earlier. The tribal community which had made this beautiful region its home was completely disconnected from other parts of the world. The biggest challenge before the Amte couple was to win the trust of the tribals, who were steeped in age-old traditions and superstitions. The traditional healers here were the “vaidus“. In spite of their constant efforts to rid the tribals of their mistaken notions and superstitions and to explain illnesses to them in scientific terms, it took more than two years for the Amtes to get their first tribal patient. The couple started a sort of open hospital, in which tribal patients were admitted for the proper administration of medicines. This was because there had been a few instances of over-medication by the patients. The biggest hurdle in the way of effective interaction with the tribal community was the language. Therefore, the couple learned Madiya, the local tribal language. Dr Prakash, a general surgeon, started operating on patients for various illnesses and was supported by his wife, who was an anaesthetist. He had to acquire expertise in specialised procedures, such as caesarean section and cataract operations, as no specialist was willing to travel to this area and the tribals were unable to visit the specialists. Today, the Lok Biradari Project hospital caters to thousands of patients. The film brings out Dr Prakash Amte’s love of animals, including tigers, leopards, lions, bears and snakes. The Amte couple reared many such wild animals. The film also touches upon Dr Prakash Amte’s contributions to the welfare of tribal communities in areas other than healthcare. For example, he was instrumental in ensuring that the benefits of various tribal welfare schemes of the government reached the real beneficiaries. He started a school for tribal children. The film shows how the Amtes were refused a US visa and were subsequently granted one when the consulate became aware of the impressive work being done by them. Dr Prakash Amte was awarded a Padma Shri, and both Dr Prakash and Dr Mandakini Amte are recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, besides many others.
The Amtes’ dedication to working in one of the most daunting tribal areas of India is in stark contrast to the attitude of most doctors today. At the present time, doctors cannot even think of working in rural areas, despite the various incentives, as well as disincentives, announced by the government to encourage them to serve in these areas. This couple has been working for years, quietly and tirelessly, and now they have been joined by the next generation. To conclude, every doctor, not only in India but in the entire world, must watch this film. It is especially important for budding doctors, who need to know what a real doctor should be.