This film claims to be based on an “incredible” true story, which is overselling it a bit – humane it may be, but it’s by no means extraordinary. At the end of Aye Zindagi, a few photographs of the real characters and a ‘Where they are now” slideshow actually conveys what the film is trying to say in a concise fashion, more than the heavy-duty emotional manipulation that went before. Films need not be based on real stories to resonate with audiences. Fiction, if used well, can be just as valid a means to get the point across.
Aye Zindagi, written and directed by Anirban Bose, coasts along on good intentions, an important message and an easy propensity for tears among some viewers.
Vinay Chawla (Satyadeep Dubey) is a somewhat charmless protagonist who discovers that his severe symptoms (nausea, nosebleed, hair loss, weight gain) point to liver cirrhosis, an ailment from which even teetotallers can suffer (this is not properly explained). For a software professional, he is remarkably clueless, going about his job as if it were more important than his life.
At a hospital in Hyderabad, Revathi Rajan (Revathi) is a grief counsellor whose job entails persuading grieving families of the recently deceased to donate organs. Revathi has a happy family – a husband and two teenaged kids —but how her gloomy work affects her is spoken of more than shown, though that should have been a significant part of the script. We’re taken through Vinay’s worsening condition (good work by the make-up and prosthetics team), and how he waits for a liver transplant while his brother Kartik (Sawan Tank) puts his life on hold and his colleagues, a smiling nurse Manju (Mrinmayee Godbole), Revathi and the surgeon (Hemant Kher) do all they can to help.
Viewers never get a feel of how difficult the process is (the film is set in 2004, and there have been positive developments in organ donation since) and how financially draining treatment can be for a middle-class family. In the oasis of the hospital, there is no hint of a black market organ trade, or a plausible explanation of how another patient jumps the transplant queue.
In a curiously detached manner, the film handles the emotional wringer through which it puts its characters, particularly survivor’s guilt. The story belongs to Revathi’s courage as much as Vinay’s willpower, but the conflicting emotions needed a balance that Anirban Bose is unable to achieve. Even a budding romance is tepid.
Revathi is left to do the heavy lifting, demonstrating to the younger actors that a show-offy performance is not necessarily a more effective one.