The Phenyl files

Why the vaguely characterized Imran Khan would have sipped a disinfectant in ‘Katti Batti’


Imran Khan and Kangana Ranaut in a still from ‘Katti Batti’
Imran Khan and Kangana Ranaut in a still from ‘Katti Batti’

If you have already seen it, you probably agree that Katti Batti is a mind fogging film. It unreasonably profiles at least three types of love: love at first sight, love at first sight of terminal illness and no love lost between rage and reason. Uff. But if you haven’t watched Nikhil Advani’s newest outing on relationships in contemporary India my advice is: don’t. The lyrics “Love is a Bhaste of Time” from the film PK are so eminently suited to this film.

Unless of course you want to sniff out the role that popular household disinfectant phenyl plays in suicides in our country.

Besides a desperate gang of Frustrated One Side Lovers Association, Fosla, (or some such) that given a smarter business plan may just land on its feet as an enterprise in real India choked as it is with romantic breakups, I would vote for phenyl as the “Product” of the film. Larger in social consequence than all of Kangana Ranaut’s fashion accessories put together and even more than tiny, terrific tortoise food which no other Bollywood romcom has so far tried to popularize.

Phenyl then is the bathroom liquid Madhav Kabra aka Maddy played angrily and irritatingly by Imran Khan sips under a wave of woefulness. He does this—so we must believe—to bring things to an abrupt halt after Ranaut’s Payal dumps him.

Ranaut is a mess, I mean even if you ignore the way she has been styled. But Maddy the Mad is a bigger mess. He drinks phenyl by “mistake”. He was kicking his blues drinking beer in the bathtub and reached out to the other similar bottle instead. When you put aside the absurdity of an urban young architect in a consensual live-in relationship choosing phenyl as an exit route (do they really kill themselves for girls these days?) you are left with: phenyl of course.

It raises a stink for reasons you and I may have been ignorant about.

I typed phenyl in my Google search line and these links dropped down instantly: Phenyl prices in India, Phenyl brands in India and Phenyl poisoning in India. Incidentally, black phenyl in a dark brown glass bottle that Maddy the Mad of Katti Batti confuses with a beer bottle is way less popular in the Indian market. The shelves are brimming with perfumed liquids in coloured or transparent plastic bottles—Lyra, Lizol, Domex, Sunny, Trishul, Tide, Gainda, Extra Kleen.

Perfumery and packaging notwithstanding, poisoning is one of the most common methods of reported suicides in our country. It also is a shrill cry for urgent help. In a story that surfaced this August, the nanny employed by cricketer Vinod Kambli and his wife allegedly drank phenyl to escape the torturous treatment meted out by them. A report released in 2014 by the Forensic Science Laboratory at Kalina in Mumbai stated that about 5,947 people had died in one year because of poison consumption—household poisons being one of them. In a story published by DNA newspaper based on this study, experts spoke about the easy accessibility of household poisons in urban homes, quite like pesticides or wells in villages which explained the other prevalent forms of suicide. (Read more here)

A 2014 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) titled Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative also listed pesticide poisoning as the most common suicidal method in rural regions across South-east Asia. Household poisons are found to be rampant. India stood out as suicide capital in that report. According to the WHO report, “Every 40 seconds, a suicide is committed somewhere and India, along with Nepal, Indonesia and North Korea, accounts for almost one-third of the global total.” The most vulnerable age group is 15-29 years.

Shockingly, phenyl retains its place in news for some reason or the other. Earlier this year, Maneka Gandhi, the Union minister for women and child development, wrote a letter to fellow cabinet ministers urging the use of Gaunyle, a disinfectant made from cow urine, to replace the chemically potent phenyl that she claimed was bad for the environment.

On the Internet you also find a rather sensation-soaked story from Zee News about a man who forced his wife to drink phenyl for not observing the Karva Chauth fast. (Read more here)

All said and done, it may be time to repeat that if a romantic comedy has to be taken to the cleaners via a disinfectant, you can well imagine how absurd the film is, in the first place.

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