The actor, who wrote about how his family coped with his son’s cancer, is now working on a docu on how the country grapples with the condition
Kunal Guha (MUMBAI MIRROR; July 2, 2017)

When Emraan Hashmi’s son Ayaan was diagnosed with Wilm’s tumour, a rare cancer that occurs in the kidney, he was only three. To explain the condition to the toddler, Hashmi initially told him that he was going to become like his favourite superhero Iron Man and his treatment was only part of his transformation. “But that was wrong as relying on a lie can have a deep psychological impact. It was important to tell him there’s something inside him and it can be treated,” says the actor who went on to explain the nitty-gritties of the deadly condition to his son who is presently in his fourth year of remission. The gruelling experience introduced Hashmi to the various myths associated with the condition and also gave him an insight into the state of healthcare in India. Having recorded the tumultuous ordeal endured by his family in the 2016 book Kiss of life: How a superhero and my son defeated cancer, Hashmi will now spearhead a documentary on how India grapples with the disease, which is predicted to inflict 17 lakh by 2020, and the state of public healthcare. “A book, with all the best intentions, is limited in its reach so I wanted to go down the visual path and a documentary seemed the best option to take this effort further.” Tentatively titled, The C Word, the documentary will be written, researched and produced in collaboration with Manish Hariprasad of Owlet Films (former creative head of UTV and Red Chillies) and Bilal Siddiqi, the co-author of Hashmi’s book.

When Ayaan was detected with the condition, Hashmi’ first instinct was, ‘Why did my son get it?’. He says it is “a feeling that is shared by all cancer patients and their families”. Reviewing triggers will be a crucial part of this docu. “In India, about 80 per cent of cancers are triggered by environmental factors. You’re talking about smoking, gutka and the air we breathe. But the food we eat, our stress levels — are all equally responsible,” says Hashmi, adding that “while one cannot control the air one breathes, one can control its impact through nutrition”. “And it was by leaning on these principles of nutrition and holistic healing that Ayaan bounced back,” shares the actor whose book has three chapters dedicated to preventive measures.

That the two branches of cancer treatment in India and the West — traditional oncology and holistic healing — don’t see eye-to-eye leads Hashmi to speak to those who’ve benefited from either or both. “Each dismisses the other. Holistic healers would say traditional oncology helps to a certain extent but it’s limited in certain cases and chemotherapy causes collateral damage to the body, which in some cases, is irreversible,” says the actor who feels the credibility attached to conventional treatment is based on its recorded success rate. “Unfortunately, there aren’t many statistics in the holistic world, leading to skepticism. But I know of people who have been cured of late-stage cancers through holistic means. So I would want to know how this happened, what they did and what were their circumstances,” says the actor, adding that his docu will also throw light on the quackery propagated in rural areas as a means for cancer treatment.

Hashmi’s project, for which he plans to travel the length and breadth of the country, hopes to eliminate the stigma attached to the condition which keeps many from being diagnosed early. “A lot of women from villages and even cities ignore the symptoms of breast cancer. They don’t even want to engage in a conversation about it as it is a part of the anatomy they feel ashamed to talk about. This resistance in getting oneself examined leads to a delay in diagnosis and thus in getting treated at an early stage,” says the actor, adding that opting for latestage treatment could be expensive and offers low prognosis.

Another aspect of the deadly condition, often ignored in India, are the psychological implications of surviving it. “In my son’s case, we wanted to be sure that this won’t leave any emotional residue. Not just for our son, but even for us, as parents. But this isn’t even seen as a department of medical treatment in India. A reason would be the baffling numbers that can’t even afford basic treatment forget psychological counseling,” he adds.

Apart from reporting, Hashmi’s film will also make a plea to the government to extend additional resources to take on the disease which is slated to become the biggest killer, surpassing heart ailments, in the years to come. “If you get down to statistics, India contributes 1-1.5 per cent of its GDP to public healthcare, which is miniscule. Even a populous country like China invests three times more,” says Hashmi, adding that initiatives such metronomics or affordable medication offer a promising start.

An acute shortage of pediatric doctors to treat cancer, resulting in most being treated by regular oncologists is another concern Hashmi seeks to address through this medium. “There are pediatric facilities in the West which understand a child’s psyche. This goes a long way in treating them — a regular oncologist may not be best equipped to deal with it.” That Mumbai is yet to get a dedicated pediatric cancer hospital and Tata Memorial Hospital has 2,500 new pediatric patient registrations every year attended by a team of just six doctors makes this an alarming concern.

Having soldiered through this trying experience, Hashmi feels he has picked up a few pointers that those battling a similar situation can take away from. “When something like this happens, you’re constantly badgered and know that some bad news may come soon. But as a family, you sail through it and emerge as a more hopeful and confident unit,” he concludes.