The legend of a great Indian doctor

On 28th June, 2012, Guo Qinglan Kotnis, the ex-wife of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis passed away in Dalian (China) at the age of 96 years. She had married the legendary Indian physician in 1941 when he was on his medical mission in China when the second world war was underway. This sacrificing doctor sacrificed all his joys and finally his life also in 1942 for the cause of the wounded humanity. And because of the doctors like him only, still the people consider a doctor a human form of the Almighty and that’s why medicine is still considered a noble profession.

In July 1937, Japan invaded China and thereafter the Chinese leader General Jhu De requested India for medical help. The Indian National Congress decided to help China considering it as a humanitarian help from one nation striving for freedom to another nation striving for freedom, the pain of slavery being the common factor between them. Congress leader Subhash Chandra Bose made an emotional appeal to the Indian physicians to become a part of this humanitarian cause. Young doctor from Sholapur (Maharashtra) – Dwarkanath Kotnis responded positively to that appeal and became a part of the 5 member medical team which was led by Dr. Atal. Except Dr. Kotnis, the other four doctors returned safely to their motherland but this young doctor decided to devote his life for the cause of humanity. He kept on working in the mobile clinics to treat the wounded soldiers and joined the Eighth Route Army led by Mao Zedong in 1939. He conducted more than 800 major operations. He was also made the director of Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital. He passed away at the tender age of 32 years due to epilepsy and reserved a place in the hearts of the Chinese forever. Prior to his death, his wife Guo Qinglan had given birth to his son – Yinhua (whose meaning is ‘India and China’). She remarried later but never removed his name from her name and till her death continued to be known as Guo Qinglan Kotnis only.

Legendary Indian filmmaker – V. Shaantaraam immortalized the biography of this great Indian doctor through a movie – Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (the legend of Dr. Kotnis). V. Shaantaraam himself played the title role of Dr. Kotnis and his wife Jayshree played the role of Guo Qinglan. Even the real life little daughter of the filmmaking couple – Rajshree played the role of the little son of Dr. Kotnis in the movie. Now the print of this movie available for watching on the small screen does not contain the complete movie but almost two hours long abridged version also is able to make the viewer feel the golden heart of the great Indian doctor and his passion to serve the wailing humanity.

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Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946) is an interesting movie whose script was based on the story of Khwaja Ahmed Abbas -‘And one did not come back’. Considering the entertainment quotient, the filmmaker V. Shaantaraam has infused romance, songs and a bit of humour also in the movie while keeping the real life episode of Dr. Kotnis intact. This black and white movie should not be watched from a contemporary viewpoint but with a mindset for understanding those turbulent times and the spirit with which this movie had been made. You may find certain scenes as sombre or the technique as outdated or the music as something you are not well-versed with but this is a movie to be watched less through the eyes and more through the heart.

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Since I have also seen the now available abridged version only and not the originally made complete movie, I don’t find myself as competent to comment upon the picturization of the medical activities of Dr. Kotnis in China which has less footage in the available version. However his mission to invent the treatment of ulcer and then taking the risk of experimenting his finding upon himself only is pretty impressive. The scene of the doctor’s death is also very emphatic and able to move the viewer deep within.

The romantic angle of the doctor with Guo Qinglan who was a nurse and his assistant in his medical mission, has been given ample footage which tickles the heart of the viewer like anything. The scene of the doctor’s wedding in which he adjusts his would-be wife’s saari is hilarious and the scene of their first night of togetherness is both comic and romantic. Despite being based on a real life story, this movie has been made in such a way that nowhere it bores the viewer.

Since this movie was made in the real life period (made within four years of the doctor’s death), everything shown appears natural and realistic. It’s been edited well and there is no dragging.

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Producer-director, V. Shaantaraam has marvelled in the title role. He was quite handsome like the real life doctor and he has fitted the bill of this role perfectly. His real life wife, Jayshree has also acted well in the role of his Chinese sweetheart and later, wife. Not only herself but Baburao Pendharkar as the Chinese general and Dewan Sherar as Kaka Wong also look Chinese only from their faces. It’s something I consider as highly commendable considering the underdeveloped status of the filmmaking technique those days.

Music by Vasant Desai is quite good according to the period of the movie. Pardesi Re (sung by Zeenat Begum and Vasant Desai) and Zindagi Zindagi Zindagi, Koi Sapna Nahin Zindagi (sung by Vasant Desai) specially impress.

This movie presents Japan in bad-light which is natural because Japan was the invader but despite all the accolades showered by China on Dr. Kotnis, the ever-pinching fact remains as to how conveniently the Chinese leaders forgot his sacrifice after a few decades and made an inhuman invasion on India itself after declaring India as the friend of China every now and then ? Well, the politicians’ expression of sentiments is also politically motivated. However the Asoka tree planted by Guo Qinglan, the wife and Yinhua, the son in the memory of their beloved Dr. Kotnis at Sholapur in 1958 still stands tall and reminds the doctors of the whole world what a noble profession is the profession of medicine if followed with dedication !

While recommending this sensitive and interesting movie to all the sensitive viewers who take interest in watching golden oldies from the black and white era, I remind the doctors of India also to remember that great Indian doctor with pride and respect who sacrificed everything for the cause of humanity and brought laurels to his nation.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
This entry was posted in Movie Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The legend of a great Indian doctor

  1. I’ve heard a lot about this movie. Will search for it on torrent. Very beautiful review!

  2. I’ve heard stories about Dr Kotnis and his sacrifices….didn’t know a movie has been made by the legendary director on him. Thanks for enlightening me, on both the movie and, the life and activities of Dr Kotnis… 🙂

  3. I remember having seen this movie long long back ..think when I was in school but still remember that it was a very inspiring movie. Your post rekindled the memory.

  4. This is one biopic worth watching a repeat

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