6 films on the complexities of organ donation


Organ donation is always an emotional decision and involves families and loved ones.

In Hollywood, most films about organ donation have ruined the campaign for the cause. Set in dystopian futures, these films thrive on the dark thrills of organ harvesting rackets (Bad Repo, Never Let Me Go) or on the horrors of it (Turistas). Indian films are a different ballgame: these films are anchored by melodrama to unrealistic plots (Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha). Most films are guided by myths.

On the occasion of Organ Donation Day on August 13, we take a look at some films from India and abroad that have touched upon the complexity of emotions involving organ donation and promoted the cause.

Thank You, 2015

Tamil film director A. L. Vijay's short film released by the National Foundation for Liver Research sends out a heart-warming message about the benefits of organ donation. Five people live a normal life, pursuing their hobbies and career. Life comes undone when a health crisis hits—heart condition, kidney failure, blindness caused by accident, liver disease. Their families are devastated. But one person's agreement to donate his or her organs after death could save multiple lives. This film looks at organ donation from the perspective of the family and loved ones close to those in need of a transplant.

Phir Zindagi, 2015

A short film directed by duo Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar, it stars Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah and Neeraj Kabi, among others. It looks into the process of organ donation in great detail. Besides the emotional complications, there are also legal and procedural paths that one has to go through. It also stresses on the importance of being listed on a waiting list for recipients.

Traffic, 2011

An ambulance carries a live, beating heart from one hospital to another, as traffic authorities across the distance create a 'green corridor' to let it pass through in the shortest possible time. There is gripping tension throughout the film as a patient in crucial need of heart transplant awaits the donor's heart to travel from one part of the state to another. In real life, incidents of green corridors in cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru have saved many lives. The immense success of late Malayalam film director Rajesh Pillai's film inspired a Bollywood remake in 2015, starring Manoj Bajpai. The film raised awareness about how important a green corridor is to save a person's life.

My Sister's Keeper, 2009

Based on the eponymous book by Jodi Picoult, this film deals with issues of consent in cases of living organ donation. Anna suffers from acute leukaemia and has a renal failure. Her 14-year-old sister Kate is expected to donate her kidney to her, being a perfect genetic match. Kate protests, and sues her parents, played by Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric, with the help of an attorney (Alec Baldwin). The book and the film have crucially different endings, but both provide a deep perspective of the emotions of the donor, recipient and family.

Seven Pounds, 2008

This touching film revolves around Will Smith's character, who wants to be a good samaritan in retribution for a wrong he did in his past. He seeks out people in distress—including a young boy in need of bone marrow, a blind man, and a woman with a congenital heart condition played by Rosario Dawson. He then wills his organs to them through a solicitor, before committing suicide. The concept behind the film may be flawed (one cannot just 'will organs' for donation without tests), but it accurately depicts the struggles faced by people who need transplants. Director Gabriele Muccino (Pursuit of Happyness fame) beautifully captures the joy and gratitude of those people when they find their donors—in this case, one man who saved seven lives.

21 Grams, 2003

This story about three people whose fates get entangled is an emotional ride right from the start. It deals with the complex emotions of giving life and taking life. Sean Penn plays a seriously ill mathematician with very little time, awaiting news of a heart transplant donor. Benicio Del Toro plays an ex-convict with a religious eye, who accidentally kills a man and his two daughters. Naomi Watts, the dead man's wife, agrees to donating his heart. The film unravels in the aftermath of this heart transplant operation. Directed by Oscar winner Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (The Revenant), it busts a common myth that films about transplant are prone to: a new heart doesn't mean a new personality or new feelings.

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