What is unique about a woman’s struggle with cancer, as opposed to a man’s? Loss of appearance, physical pain, debilitation, death are eventualities that a patient of any kind of cancer constantly fears and always confronts. For women, the metaphors and taboos surrounding cancer tend to be heightened. The weight of the “cancer personality” rests heavier on women.
In 1 a Minute, a new documentary on women who have survived breast cancer and other kinds of cancer, this argument is implicit. Namrata Singh Gujral, the director, is a cancer survivor, and her film unites the experience of many women—including musician Melissa Ethridge, actor Olivia Newton Jones, former Hindi film actor Mumtaz and model and actor Lisa Ray—in a narrative that simplifies individual experiences of cancer.
Spirited: Gujral at work on 1 a Minute after a chemotherapy session.
The film is bereft of any intellectual experiences or questions and the director’s proximity to the cancer experience is obvious. By making this film, she wanted to share the emotions she went through—the fear of losing her daughter and husband, for one. “Why me?” she asks constantly. Juxtaposed with interviews with cancer survivors is a fictional representation of her own life. The impact of the narrative is marred by this device. More from the interviewees would have made it more engaging. For a film running at a length of one and a half hours, she also does not exhaustively deal with developments in cancer research.
But these are minor quibbles about a film which takes up a subject like this. The money from ticket sales will go to the Nargis Dutt Memorial Trust for cancer research, run by politician Priya Dutt.
Anyone who watches this film should read Sustan Sontag’s Illness as a Metaphor. What Gujral misses, Sontag illuminates in this powerful book about the metaphors and myths surrounding cancer, and why they add greatly to the suffering of patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatment. “Passion moves inward, striking and blighting the deepest cellular recesses,” Sontag writes. Gujral’s film is an emotional portrayal of this reality.
1 a Minute releases in PVR theatres across India today.