Page last updated at 01:27 GMT, Saturday, 25 February 2006

Getting to the heart of Asian health

By Jane Elliott
BBC News Online health reporter

Rumeena Gujral
She is now planning a diabetes film

When Dr Rumeena Gujral's parents both suffered heart problems in their 40s she reached for a prescription pad with a difference - by writing a Bollywood style film to get her message home.

'Matters of the Heart', or 'Dil Ki Baatein' in Hindi, tells the story of Ruby, whose father Raj has a heart attack at her henna party before her wedding.

Ruby threatens to call off the ceremony unless her parents get fit.

And, with the help of the hospital cardiologist, they swap the traditional fat ghee, used in much South Asian cooking, for olive oil and exercise.

And to hammer home her message, Dr Rumeena, a locum house officer who is marrying soon herself, cast her parents Rajan and Renu in the leading roles.


"I did do castings for other people, but my father was the inspiration behind the piece and it is hard to see anyone else in that role.

"My parents are both architects and I think they quite enjoyed doing the film.

My parents were both diagnosed in their late 40s and that was a real surprise
Rumeena Gujral

"They were surprised how much elbow grease goes into film-making."

But she said despite its comedic tone, 'Dil Ki Baatein' has a very serious message.

"I wanted to raise awareness about heart problems.

"British Asians are at a 50% increased risk of dying of a heart attack than the UK's White Europeans and at increased risk compared with Asians in Asia.

"Causes for this include a high fat diet and a lack of exercise.

"People can make very simple life style changes to try to reduce their risk. The film highlights some of these easy steps.

"My parents were both diagnosed in their late 40s, and that was a real surprise - especially my mum who is quite slim."


Dr Gujral, who has an MA in film studies, blames her father's heart attack and mother's angina in part on their fat rich diet.

"They did eat a traditional diet. They ate a lot of samosas and fried food.

"They were just eating a normal South Asian diet. But it was not until they had their problems that we noticed what was in the food, and the fact that as a group we tend to exercise less."

The family still eat their traditional food, but try and swap the fried foods for more healthy alternatives and the ghee for olive oil.

A clip from the film
The film uses the Bollywood genre

"My parents are both well now but I still catch my dad with the occasional Kentucky Fried Chicken wrappers in his car, although he has promised he isn't eating the skin."

The film is to be launched in front of Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and members of the public in her Leicester constituency early next month.

Dr Gujral, aged 28, from Maidenhead, hopes the film commissioned by the South Asian Health Foundation and sponsored by Pfizer, will inspire better heart health by getting the message across more easily to the population who need it.

"The aim is to show it to the community and to have it shown at film festivals so we can help get the message across."


Dr Gujral says she hopes to continue in her dual roles of medic and film-maker for the foreseeable future.

"I really do want to continue in medicine and film. But with medicine the way it is at the moment, it is very difficult to dip in and out.

"I do hope to do another film soon about diabetes and then go back to medicine and train in accident and emergency."

Patricia Hewitt told the BBC News website that the project was an excellent way of getting the message of heart health across to the South Asian population, adding: "It is also an innovative way of targeting a hard-to-reach group."

Qaim Zaidi, ethnic co-ordinator at the British Heart Foundation agreed that South Asian heart health was an area to be targeted.

"Death rates from CHD among South Asians are not falling as fast as the general population, and anything that helps us to address this is fantastic.

"We fund a great deal of research to unravel why these health inequalities exist and support initiatives to help prevent heart disease."

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