In one of the most prestigious medical colleges, director Abhay Kumar, through roughly 1000 hours of footage, brings out the disturbing, yet not surprising, reality of student life in India in Placebo.
It was to understand the cause of his younger brother Sahil’s self-inflicted injury that Abhay had initially set foot on the AIIMS campus. Little did he know that the institution’s innards had another story simmering and brewing. Waiting to be told. But this could’ve been just about any other premier college. AIIMS is only symbolic.
The documentary shows the other side of academia in India. The dark side. The side no one tells us about when we set out to achieve our dreams. The side we refuse to acknowledge or conveniently brush under the carpet for the fear of not keeping up with the world. For the fear of isolation. Placebo questions the psyche of a student’s mind. What makes him take a decision about his course of life? His motives to choose one route over the other. What drives him? And once he achieves his ultimate dream, what keeps him motivated? Or is it the end of the chase? That’s really where the film begins. Parental pressure, peer pressure, ragging, depression, mental health, isolation, suicide. Placebo throws light on it all, tying the entire story through these threads.
The documentary spotlights the increasing number of suicide cases, even (and particularly) at premier colleges like AIIMS. It questions the negligence of the authorities towards students. The widening communication gap between them and the resultant isolation. The complacency setting in among students to accept the goings on without questioning the treatment meted out. (The director, without permission from the college authorities, stationed himself on the campus for two years (2011-13), posing as a student, which in itself is telling of the state of affairs of the college).