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Bollywood and mental illness, a troubled relationship

With the release of Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao starrer Judgementall Hai Kya, the audience will get a chance to see if our makers have taken any cues from the past when it comes to portraying mental illness on the big screen.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi | Published: July 25, 2019 8:41:29 am
mental illness movies Bollywood shares a troubled relationship with mental illness.

Over the years we have had a slew of Indian movies that aimed to portray mental illness on screen. However, it has not exactly been successful in its attempts. But a few like Dear Zindagi and 15 Park Avenue do stand out in the crowd. With the release of Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao starrer Judgementall Hai Kya, the audience will get a chance to see if our makers have taken any cues from the past.

Dear Zindagi

This Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan starrer throws light on how stress and unhappiness can result in insomnia. Alia Bhatt’s Kaira is a bright cinematographer who one day wishes to make her own movies. However, due to various circumstances that occur in her life, she has been leading a disturbed life. One day she chances upon Dr Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) and hears him speak about mental illness at a conference. She decides to seek help and from thereon, the Gauri Shinde directorial shows its audience how reaching out for professional help can bring a positive impact in someone’s life.

Krazzy 4

This multi-starrer is a far cry from Dear Zindagi. Despite actors like Irrfan Khan and Arshad Warsi, the Jaideep Sen directorial seemed to make light of its protagonists’ illness. While the film showed the viewers that its lead characters suffered from cases of Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the writer introduces done-to-death plot tropes in the film whose only aim is to evoke laughter, therefore reducing the matter of mental illness to a mere joke.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns

At the time, we might have consumed this much-talked-about scene of Aanand L Rai directorial Tanu Weds Manu Returns. However, now that people are aware and more discussions are happening around the subject of mental illness, the sequence where Kangana Ranaut and R Madhavan are speaking to a panel of doctors in what is supposed to be a mental asylum has received considerable flak over time and for good reason.

In the aforementioned act, the lead actors throw around words like anxiety and bipolar disorder with unbelievable nonchalance. What also doesn’t help matters is the accompanying background music — of the light, funny kind usually played during comic scenes.

Karthik Calling Karthik

Another depiction of schizophrenia, but at least this one was well done. In the Vijay Lalwani film, Farhan Akhtar’s character Karthik Narayan is an introverted man who blames himself for his brother’s death. However, later we discover that to deal with this issue, Karthik develops an alter-ego who talks him into becoming a more confident and successful version of himself. Farhan did a standup job of the unhinged Karthik, effectively delivering to the audience the gravity of his situation.

15 Park Avenue

The Aparna Sen movie might have a somewhat ‘depressing’ end, but at least the script and the able performances of the cast help move the message in the right direction. Konkana Sen Sharma is Meethi, a former journalist who suffers from schizophrenia (yes, Bollywood seems hell-bent on depicting this particular disease in every other movie to serve its dramatic purpose). Meethi in her head has created an alternative world where she lives with her ex (Rahul Bose) and their five children and she envisions her mother (Waheeda Rehman) and her elder sister Anjali (Shabana Azmi) as villains of her story.

A nuanced performance by both Azmi and Konkana lifts the film from its dreary surroundings and forces you to sit up and take notice of the lead characters’ movements and intentions — something which every film sets out to do, but doesn’t necessarily succeed in its objective.

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