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‘Breathe’ Has Admirable Production And Cinematography, But Vapid Writing

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Do you remember Madhavan Balaji Ranganathan, also known as R. Madhavan? He is an Indian actor, writer and film producer who was the lead actor in several movies, including 3 Idiots and Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mai, but then suddenly disappeared from the Bollywood Industry.

Similarly, Nithya Menen and Abhishek Bachchan, amongst others, met the same fate. The sudden rise in web series, however, has opened doors for these incredible performers and put them among their fans once again. I am thankful to OTT platforms and web-series who gave us the opportunity to re-watch their charisma unfurl on the screen.

In season one of the 2018 Amazon Prime series Breathe, a father goes on a killing spree to keep his son alive. In the second season, also created by Mayank Sharma, a father justifies a murder in order to save his daughter. In both the seasons, a father kills to improve an immunocompromised child’s chances of staying alive. When Delhi-based psychiatrist Avinash Sabharwal’s daughter Siya (Ivana Kaur) gets kidnapped, Avinash (Abhishek Bachchan) and his wife Abha (Nithya Menen) meticulously plan murders to meet the kidnapper’s demands in order to free their child.

A well-off and educated couple cave in and easily become killers, with the simple justification that all is fair if you are trying to save your family. The kidnapper invokes the 10 traits represented by each of Ravana’s 10 heads — anger, lust, ego, fear and so on — for the murders to be committed (It’s impossible not to think of the similarity with David Fincher’s 1995 thriller Se7en). But Avinash thinks he can outwit the kidnapper because, after all, he is a specialist in “mind games”.

Nithya Menen in Breathe

For that to happen, the story (written by Sharma, Bhavani Iyer, Vikram Tuli and Arshad Syed) would have to follow the logic, be constructed intelligently, and be creative and original. Instead, we see a catalogue of cliches associated with the genre of murder mystery. Despite all the commuting by the characters within and around Delhi, the story itself crawls along.

Barring the kidnapper’s story, the other characters swivel in a single spot. I bet you’d guess the criminal’s identity before hitting mid-point of this bloated 12-episode series. The Delhi police team in charge of the case is at a loss as videos of these brutal crimes beam across television channels. Joining in their efforts are inspector Kabir Sawant (Amit Sadh) and his trusted deputy Prakash Kamble (Hrishikesh Joshi) from the first season.

Kabir is carrying the emotional baggage of a thoughtless act, and guilt draws him to Delhi, where he reacquaints himself with Meghna (Plabita Borthakur), his victim from the past. Not only is Meghna now a sponsor at Narcotics Anonymous, she’s also a chirpy, life-positive young woman who has named her wheelchair “Max”.

Sadh literally carries the burden of a traumatised Kabir, who has lost his daughter and his equilibrium, on his muscular shoulders. His character barely rises out of the pit of gloom and only occasionally shows a flash of edgy police work, partially egged on by an ambitious and publicity-hungry senior officer. Kabir should have been the binding element between the two seasons, but his part is relegated to the wings. Credit, though, to Sadh for conveying the pain and fleeting pleasures of a man coming out of the shadows.

Nithya Menen and Abhishek Bachchan are fettered by the material and look as bewildered at the vapid writing. There was an opportunity to explore childhood trauma and mental health issues here, but it’s unharnessed. Notable performances come from supporting cast members, such as Saiyami Kher, Resham Shrivardhan, Shruti Bapna and Nizhalgal Ravi. Most of the twists can be seen coming an episode in advance. A dozen episodes of 45 minutes each give you plenty of time to join the dots and take a coffee break without missing anything crucial to the inflated and exposition-heavy plot.

Any gains made by production, background music, art direction and cinematography of the series are lost by its writing and editing. A side-plot of two sub-inspectors vying for Kabir’s attention is negated by a pointless sidebar about a recently-transferred employee juggling a wife’s nagging with flirtation with an old flame. The season was filmed before the pandemic and lockdown, but watching it in this environment, and seeing men in N95 masks and a germaphobe obsessively sanitising his surroundings resonated in a very strange way.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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