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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Medecins Sans Frontieres doctor slams “irresponsible” Bollywood movie

The Bollywood action movie Phantom, currently being shown in cinemas across the country, has been slammed by a doctor for its depiction of an international medical organisation.
Dr Javid Abdelmoneim has worked in the field on many humanitarian missions for Medecins Sans Frontieres. Courtesy Dr Javid Abdelmoneim
Dr Javid Abdelmoneim has worked in the field on many humanitarian missions for Medecins Sans Frontieres. Courtesy Dr Javid Abdelmoneim

DUBAI // A Bollywood action movie currently being shown in cinemas across the country has been criticised by a doctor for its depiction of an international medical organisation.

Phantom stars the British-Indian actress Katrina Kaif as an aid worker for a charity called Medicine International. She helps an Indian soldier, played by Saif Ali Khan, to pursue Pakistani militants who planned the 2008 attacks on Mumbai.

Dr Javid Abdelmoneim, a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) doctor who was in Abu Dhabi at the weekend to give a fund-raising talk at the Club, said the film, which is banned in Pakistan, could compromise MSF’s neutrality in conflict zones. “As a doctor, a patient is a patient,” said the 36-year-old Sudanese-Iranian. “If by chance the patient happens to be the rebel who shot that wounded person in the bed next to him, it doesn’t matter to us.”

In a recent interview, Kaif accidentally referred to her character’s employers as Medecins Sans Frontieres instead of the fictional Medicine International, and said “NGO workers had ties with local fanatical groups” in war-torn regions. MSF, which is active in India and Pakistan, said it was taking legal action to correct the misrepresentation.

“I have educated cousins in Sudan who quite honestly believe that MSF, when working in Darfur, is actually mining for minerals,” said Dr Abdelmoneim, who has served on the front line for MSF in Haiti, Lebanon, Iraq and Sierra Leone, and is on the French charity’s UK board.

“Imagine what a tribal person up in the valleys of Pakistan might think after watching this film. If they want to get violent against an aid worker, they can. It’s concerning.”

Violence against aid workers has increased in recent years. Two MSF workers were killed in South Sudan last month, two have been held in the Congo for the past two years and five were kidnapped in Syria last year. They have since been released.

“We had to reduce our presence in Syria hugely as a result,” said Dr Abdelmoneim.

“The arena has become much more dangerous, and films like Phantom are not going to help matters.”

The film also shows Kaif using a gun, something Dr Abdelmoneim, who works in A&E departments around London, said MSF employees would never do.

“To have this actress going around shooting, while wearing a very similar logo on her gilet as MSF workers wear – that’s irresponsible of the filmmaker.”

During his visit to Abu Dhabi, Dr Abdelmoneim spoke about working with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, when not a day passed without the fear that he might have contracted the disease.

“You start thinking – ‘oh, there’s an ache and a pain, have I got a sore throat?’ I once got a needle stuck in my finger. It bled and I was absolutely mortified,” he said.

Dr Abdelmoneim finds it easier to recall memories of those who survived the outbreak than the many he treated who died.

“You’re in this great big yellow protective suit, which scares the living daylights out of the children – you actually can’t get very close to anyone until they start to recover.

“In the recovery areas you’d have people starting to walk and talk again and you’d get to know them. Clinging on to those little beads of hope here and there - that’s what pulls you through.”

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