Posted on 02. Mar, 2011 by in Nuns, Priests

Guzaarish DVD Bollywood DVD With English Subtitles (Sanjay Leela Bhansali)
In the initial scenes of this movie, a nurse in florid Victorian-inspired garb handles all the physical care needs of a quadriplegic who lives in a cavernous manor house which combines high ceilings and elements of Georgian architecture with Byzantine-looking frescoes depicting Catholic themes such as the crucifixion. A statue of Jesus is frequently focused upon at various times throughout the movie.
Blogger Ramesh Ram has some more specific information on the Catholic art specific to Goa seen in the house:

A short note on religion in the film. While portugese goa, where the film is set, does have a strong catholic tradition, and the name Ethan Mascherenas is of portugese catholic origin, there is no indication that Ethan in this film is particularly religious before or after his accident. Nor is Sofia. The house he lives in however, seems populated with iconography symbolizing an early procession of portugese saints peculiar to portugese Goa ( look up vehla procession of saints) a lot of the statuery is also appropriately Indo portugese. If shooting was not done on location in a period bungalow, it appears as if the sets were reconstructed with an eye for detail from a period bungalow. Unfortunately, catholicism in the west has come to be charecterized by roman statuery of the early renisscence period (Michaelangelo/ Da vinci) and is quite different than the common catholic imagery found in India..

However, former stage magician Ethan Mascarenhas, the principal character in this story, wishes to euthanize himself in spite of his having written a book and led at least one rally exhorting fellow quadriplegics to make the best of life by seizing what opportunities they have left for them. He has a radio show which he broadcasts from his home, and indeed, seems to be practicing what he preaches, until he decides to file a petition with the indigenous legal system asking to be permitted under law to euthanize himself.
At one point, he puts forward the idea on his radio show, and allows his audience to call in their votes on the matter. As may well be expected, in a place which used to be a Portugese colony, there is a lot of adherence to Catholic values among the listeners of his radio show, many of whom urge him not to do it. On one occasion, a nun calls in and sings a song. This sentimental gesture is ineffective, and ultimately, nobody’s votes matter.

Sister Julia calls in and tries to tell Ethan not to "Ethanize" himself.

Sister Julia calls in and tries to tell Ethan not to "Ethanize" himself.

As the court system addresses the issue, and further hearings are held, it is revealed that the security of his continued existence and care is threatened, a practical consideration which is not immediately evident to those who don’t know him personally. While his internal organs have taken a non-specific but irreversible deterioration which his doctor is unable to do much about, his finances have taken a similar deterioration; he has only enough money to cover two months of salary for the nurse, and the impressive, art-filled mansion is falling apart around him. This scenario perhaps inspired the following statement in National Catholic Register from

Pascoal Carvalho, a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome and a member of the Mumbai Diocesan Human Life Committee, said he could only hope the movie “would lead to an increasing consciousness of civil rights of our challenged persons.”

India’s poor die without medical care at all, he said. The movie “could have a positive impact, if attitudinal changes resulted, coupled with provision of medical care, increased accessibility of welfare benefits and affordable hospice facilities.”

But the movie’s protagonists live far from the mean streets of India’s slums, where the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa provide a very different sort of dying with dignity than that promoted by Guzaarish.

The film, by respected director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is set in an unreal world of beautiful scenery and people, including the hero, a disabled stage magician, and the nurse who falls in love with him and resists his pleas for help in committing suicide.

Bhansali said, “We are not propagating it; we are not taking sides,” but added that “euthanasia is a very important subject” that is worth taking a sensitive look at.

Perhaps the director is not consciously promoting euthanasia, but it has to be wondered if the costume designer and the writer are. While Ethan and many of his peers are seen dressed in sophisticated modern styles, (when Ethan is not wearing pure white pajamas and caftans in combination with a stubbly beard, and assuming body postures that make him look like a suffering Jesus), the two “caretakers”, (general house servants), seen at the end of the movie when Ethan gives his valedictory address to friends, family members, and domestic employees, directly before euthanizing himself, are dressed in what could only be peasants’ or charwomens’ dresses and kerchiefs, accessorized with little silver crosses on necklaces. He praised them for lighting a candle for his recovery in church on multiple occasions, but the scene makes this traditional Catholic gesture seem superstitious and useless, its practitioners of a lesser socioeconomic status and (in the rest of India) perhaps of a lower caste.
At one point while the hearings on his case are in progress and he is one the way to one of the case hearings, as Ethan is being loaded into the car, a priest, presumably his parish priest, helps the others transfer him from wheelchair to car seat, and having evidently heard about his petition for assisted suicide, tries to tell him that God gave life as a gift, and it is not to play with.

Ethan Mascaranas and an unnamed, uninvited priest in his manor house's garden.

The priest shows up and tries to talk Ethan out of it.

Ethan Mascarenhas had the perfect rejoinder “but it’s ok for Him to play with us?” He then tells the priest that because he helped him into the car which would be taking him to the hearing on his case, the priest has thus been made an unwitting accomplice to his suicide plan. The priest leaves in disgust and is not seen or heard from again in the movie.
The priest leaves in disgust after his attempt to talk Ethan out of suicide fails.

The priest leaves in disgust after his attempt to talk Ethan out of suicide fails.

The priest wears a white cassock with the traditional Roman collar in the picture, which is realistic for the time and place. Priests and nuns wear white instead of black in certain “tropical” climates. It is unknown when this started, but it has been in force for a number of years and continues to our day.

While the point is made during the testimony portrayed in the hearing that modern medicine and situations have led to a number of cases where a number of people have petitioned India’s court system to be permitted to engage in assisted suicide legally because of their special situations, the National Catholic Register elucidates a good reason why active euthanasia is currently illegal in India and why keeping the status quo, at least for the time being, is probably a good idea:

Carvalho cited a report in India’s Law Herald in 2009 that concluded the country’s institutions were too corrupt to handle issues such as assisted suicide justly. “The judiciary is justified in its lack of confidence in cherished institutions like the family. There is always the danger greedy relatives might mislead a widow to grab her property. … There will always be the danger that euthanasia will not be the affirmation of individual choice that it is supposed to represent.”
Indeed, in a 1994 survey of 200 Indian doctors by the Right to Die With Dignity Society, while 78% believed patients should be free to choose removal of all life support systems, 70% expressed concern about abuses.

While the Catholic church is firmly against active euthanasia and all forms of overt suicide, I feel it is worth noting that I once heard a priest from India say that the church does not require that people engage in extraordinary measures to prolong or artificially support life, but that what constituted “extraordinary measures” could vary widely with historical period, country of origin, economic class, etc. In America, that might mean modern life-support machines, while in India “it could be a blood transfusion”.

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