Praful Akali, Founder & MD on Medulla Communications talks to Sangeeta Yadav about how they trained terminally ill patients for stand-up comedy, Laugh at Death, an intent to break the taboo around talking about death and spreading awareness on palliative care
- Where did you get the idea from for Laugh at Death?
This was Mihir Chitre’s idea, the creative group head of Medulla and was led by Amit Akali, chief creative officer and myself. We have been working closely with Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC) to spread awareness on Palliative Care which is about terminally ill patients and ensuring that your last days of their life are as comfortable as possible. Death is inevitable and medical care can only go so far. Palliative Care helps in improving the quality of life and preparing the patients and their family for death. It could be about dealing with pain, depression, counselling on the operational information about what needs to be done like making your will, to where you wish to die — home or hospital. There is no money involved here as it is not a commercial platform. This care is available in hospitals across the country. But doctors have yet not been able to spread awareness and build access around this and let patients and families know about it.
- How did you get the patients on board to do stand-up comedy?
We got connected to a lot of terminally ill patients through IAPC and reached out to a lot of people we knew who would agree to perform and share their experiences. Initially, we had shortlisted seven patients and had professional stand-up comedians on board including Kunal Kamra, Kashyap, Vinay Sharma and Punit Pania. These people studied the patients’ life story and trained them for the show. Unfortunately, only four could make it.
- Why others couldn’t make it?
We lost some people on the way in creating this show. A 93-year-old lady who happens to be my aunt, passed away three weeks before the show. We had 25-year-old young man, Sumeet from the IAPC network. He was the first person who said ‘yes’ and was very excited to perform. But during the rehearsals, he couldn’t just get up from the bed. Two weeks back (around first week of April), he is in a critical condition as we speak. I don’t think it is wise to give details about such patients or their families. We must respect their privacy. What we should see is their fighting spirit.
- How was the response ?
We performed first show live on Twitter three weeks back (end of March). Something like this had not been done before anywhere in the world. When the video broke, we trended No 1 on Twitter and No 3 on YouTube. We got hundred million conversations happening in few hours. BBC World and Radio Mirchi covered it extensively. We are now trying to set up a half-an-hour show of the patients and their stories with channels which might go on air by May.
- You also came up with a another show titled Last words…
We did this campaign last year to bring awareness on Palliative Care. It featured nurses talking about the last words of their patients. This exercise made us realise that most of the last words are heard by nurses and not the family members. As compare to Laugh at Death, this one was a serious campaign. Death is such a taboo in India. So much so that terminally ill patients would not discuss it with their family or vice versa. We forget that there is need to talk about Palliative Care. What better way to break this taboo around death than letting the patients themselves laugh at death.
(The article also got published in Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/special/power-of-palliative-care.html).