October 23, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Anirban Bose (also known as Anirban)
Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Hyderabad, India, from 2004 to 2014, the dramatic film “Aye Zindagi” (based on a true story) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A middle-aged married woman (who works as a grief counselor at a hospital) and a bachelor in his 20s (who works a computer software engineer and needs a liver transplant) find their lives intertwining in ways that they do not expect.
Culture Audience: “Aye Zindagi” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching emotionally dramatic movies based on true stories about personal health crises.
Based on a real events, “Aye Zindagi” has some hokey melodrama, but the movie adeptly shows the emotional complications of being in desperate need of an organ transplant and coming to terms with a tragic death of an organ donor. Even if you don’t know the true story on which this movie is based, there comes a point in “Aye Zindagi” where it’s easy to figure out that the man in need of the organ transplant will have a personal connection to the organ donor, thereby making it more difficult for him to accept that someone had to die in order for him to live.
“Aye Zindagi” (which means “life finds a way” in Hindi) is the feature-film directorial debut of writer/director Anirban Bose (also known as Anirban), who overall handles the subject matter with emotional sensitivity and respect for the real people involved. The movie has plenty of expected tearjerking moments, but they look convincingly realistic, not forced or manipulated. A lot of the credit should go to the fine acting of the movie’s cast members, who deliver memorable and effective performances.
“Aye Zindagi” (which takes place from 2004 to 2014, primarily in Hyderabad, India) begins in 2004, where Revathi Rajan (played by Revathi) works as a grief counselor at a hospital in Hyderabad. (“Aye Zindaghi” was actually filmed in the Indian cities of Mumbai and Pune.) Revathi, who is in her 40s and the happily married mother of two children, is compassionate and responsible in her work. She often has to counsel people who are in dire need of organ transplants, but for one reason or another (usually financial and usually because of a shortage in organ donations), these patients are put on a waiting list to get the organs that they need.
One of the people who ends up being counseled by Revathi is a 26-year-old computer software engineer named Vinay Chawla (played by Satyajeet Dubey), who has liver cirrhosis. (In real life, the name of the grief counselor is Lalitha Raghuram, and the name of the liver patient is Luv Dhody.) The medical diagnosis for Vinay is grim: Doctors have told him that he has only six to seven months to live unless he gets a liver transplant. The operation costs 2 million to 3 million rupees (₹2 million to ₹3 million), which is money that Vinay doesn’t have. (In 2004, ₹2 million to ₹3 million would have been about $45,000 to $67,000 in U.S. dollars.)
Vinay was so paranoid that people would find out about his liver disease, he kept it a secret from his co-workers and family until he couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. Vinay’s job is in Lucknow, India, and he was afraid that he would be fired if his boss Mr. Sharma (played by Shrikant Verma) found out about his medical condition. Instead, Mr. Sharma puts Vinay on an unpaid medical leave of absence.
Vinay’s older brother Kartik Chawla (played by Sawan Tank) is completing his first residency as a medical doctor. However, Kartik generously takes a leave of absence from his job to become a full-time caretaker for Kartik. Vinay and Kartik’s parents died when Vinay was 15, so Kartik is Vinay’s closest living relative. Kartik’s boss isn’t very understanding about Kartik taking a leave of absence to take care of an ailing Vinay, and eventually Kartik is fired from his job.
Vinay and Kartik no longer have a source of income, so their financial situation becomes even more challenging to get the money needed for the liver transplant. Vinay is put on a waiting list to get a new liver. In the meantime, Kartik, Vinay’s boss and Vinay’s co-workers start gathering fundraising money to help Vinay.
During the excruciating wait to find out if Vinay can get a liver transplant, Vinay’s liver condition gets worse, and he can no longer be taken care of in his home. Vinay has to live at the hospital, where he meets an attractive and friendly nurse who works the night shift and is also in her 20s. Her name is Manjula Nair (played by Mrinmayee Godbole), who goes by the nickname Manu.
Manu and Vinay start talking and get to know each other better as friends. You know where this is going, of course. Vinay falls in love with Manu first. Manu is a reluctant to get romantically involved with Manu, because she doesn’t know what Vinay’s life expectancy will be, and she’s engaged to marry another man. Manu tells Vinay she doesn’t love her fiancé, but she’s getting a lot of pressure from her family to marry her fiancé. There’s a lot of back-and-forth drama in the movie, as Vinay tries to get Manu to fall in love with him.
Meanwhile, Vinay continues to get counseling from Rivathi, who is very supportive of Vinay and tries to help with his problems as much as she can. Rivathi becomes close enough to Vinay and Kartik that she introduces them to her immediate family: husband Ragu Rajan; Arundhati Rajan (played by Muskaan Agarwal), who’s about 14 or 15 years old; and Nandan Rajan (played by Pranjal Trivedi), who is a 19-year-old college student. Rivathi becomes almost like a trusted mother figure to Vinay.
“Aye Zindagi” includes the harsh realities of wealthy people who need organ transplants getting priority for organ transplants over people with less money. There’s a scene where Vinay finds out that a wealthy man got a liver transplant before Vinay did, even though Rivathi assured Vinay that Vinay would be next on the waiting list to get a new liver. Vinay and Kartik have an angry confrontation with Rivathi, who has to smooth things over, because the brothers think that she was deliberately being dishonest with them.
The truth is that Rivathi doesn’t have the power to make the decisions about who will get organ transplants and when these transplants will happen. Vinay and Rivathi eventually come to understand that these hospital decisions are often unfair and based on a variety of reasons that usually have to do with which patients have the most money and can benefit the hospital the most. The hospital politics is secondary to the real heart of the story.
Revathi is about to find out in a very tragic way how difficult the process of getting an organ transplant can be. Although the real story of “Aye Zindagi” is widely known, this review won’t reveal the tragedy that Revathi experiences in the movie. It’s enough to say that as soon as this tragedy happens, you just know she will have to make a decision that could change Vinay’s life.
The last third of “Aye Zindagi” shows how Vinay and Revathi both cope with this decision, which affects their relationship in such a way that, for a period of time, they both become estranged from each other. The biggest strength of “Aye Zindagi” is showing that a medical crisis that people think should have a happy ending comes with a lot of turmoil, grief and mixed emotions. The movie is a lesson in resilience but also a lesson in empathy when people are at their lowest points in life.
Platoon One Films released “Aye Zindagi” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 14, 2022.