Moved by interactions with the blind while prepping for Kaabil, the actor made the pledge at family ophthalmologist's hospital in Wadala
Actor Hrithik Roshan with family ophthalmologist Dr S Natarajan
Sorry, Hrithik. We know you wanted to keep this under the wraps, but this touching act just has to be told. Moved by the struggles of the blind — an eye-opening realisation that dawned on him during the shoot of Kaabil — Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan quietly pledged his eyes for donation as he turned 43 on January 10. He pledged his eyes with family ophthalmologist Dr S Natarajan of Wadala-based Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital. Natarajan has been treating Hrithik's grandfather for years.
Role prep moved him
Dr Natarajan says the actor needed no nudge. "After watching Kaabil's trailer, I called [Hrithik's father] Rakeshji, asking if Hrithik would like to pledge his eyes. He told me Hrithik had already been planning to do so after learning of the lives of visually-challenged persons (while immersing himself in the character of the lead protagonist)." Unwilling to draw attention to the noble deed, he quietly pledged his eyes on his birthday at the eye hospital, says the doctor. "He did it out of affection, not to gain popularity or to promote his movie."
Dr Natarajan rues that amid the organ donation hubbub, eyes get the short shrift. "People talk about kidney, liver and heart donations, but often forget to raise awareness on eye donations. If actors like Hrithik, who have huge followers in India, come forward to pledge their eyes, we can get young donors."
Other actors, too
Hrithik joins a stable of influential actors who have pledged their eyes. Late veteran actor Om Puri, South superstar Rajinikanth (in 1986) and actress Aishwarya Rai had done the same. "We, however, couldn't retrieve Om Puri's eyes as his family didn't inform us of his death," says Dr Natarajan. Corneal extractions have to be done within six hours of death.
The grim picture
Mumbai needs such celebrity endorsements of eye donations. The city lags Chennai in terms of pledges, primarily owing to the stigma attached to eye donations. "People who believe in reincarnation think that in the next life, they will be born without eyes if their eyes were to be donated. Countries smaller than India, like Japan and Sri Lanka, have recorded the highest eye donations in the world," says Dr Natarajan.
India, as whole, isn't doing that well either. As per the National Programme for Control of Blindness, a Centre-sponsored scheme, by 2020, 10.6 million Indians will suffer from unilateral corneal blindness. To treat them, 2 lakh corneas a year will be needed. But only 45,000 are annually retrieved on an average. Of the 45 million blind people in the world, 15 million live in India. Seventy-five per cent of these cases are avoidable, but are inadequately treated or untreated owing to the shortage of corneas.