The intensive cardiac care unit is no place to make pals. Especially if you are mafia don Shaukat Ali ( Saurabh Shukla) and recuperating from a heart attack. Shaukat hates everything about the hospital. Generally, his word is command, but now he is at the command of a nurse who’s not even good-looking.
The don is frustrated at not being in control. And he doesn’t like the patient lying on the adjoining bed. His aversion grows even more when he discovers that the patient is a journalist, Aditya Roy ( Ananth Mahadevan). “Tum log yahan bhi peechcha nahi chhodoge,” he groans.
But there’s no running away from each other. The journalist is a veteran of heart attacks; this is his third. And when he tells the ganglord, “We have both suffered heart attacks. That makes us brothers,” their diametrically different professions cease to be barriers. They begin to bond. The weeks they spent convalescing becomes a life-changing experience for Shaukat. He learns to value the joy of being alive, to care and share, to look at concerns from another person’s point of view. Outside, the wives of the two patients too forge a connection. United in anxiety, they also realize that grief often has a gender angle. But do such stories have happy endings?
Inspired by a true story, Staying Alive is a subtle yet engrossing human drama. There are few major dramatic moments in the film. And it isn’t easy holding the audience interest through a series of conversations inside an ICU. But director Mahadevan manages to do that. And it helps that the movie isn’t bereft of dry humour.
Mahadevan, the actor, is far less impressive though. But the film gets strength from Shukla’s terrific turn. It is a role with a variety of shades and Shukla gets each of them right. Even the wives, played by Navani Parihar and Sunita respectively, add to the movie’s muscle.
One of the most poignant scenes in the film involves Shukla and Rakesh Pandey, the forgotten hero of 1970s Bollywood. The latter delivers a restrained monologue to his wife in coma for the past seven years with nonchalant dignity. When he leaves, Shaukat wonders aloud, “What if I go into coma?” It’s a moment where the don realizes he is little more than a weathercock in the hands of fate. It is also a moment of compelling cinema.
Tip-off: If serious human drama interests you, this is your pick. Otherwise, stay away.
Two men — one of them a journalist, the other a mafia don — are lying side by side in a hospital. Both have suffered heart attacks. The chance encounter changes their lives. . . .