Mental Health in Movies – From your screens to your hearts

Mental Health in Movies – From your screens to your hearts

As Vidhya Balan danced lunatically in a yellow saree in the movie Bhool Bhulaiyaa, we were all stunned about how a person could be a young housewife and a century old classical dancer at the same time. 

Anthony Burgess in “ A Clockwork Orange” said, “It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.” Little did he know that every word he uttered would turn out to be a bitter truth of our society. 

As long as we don’t see anything on a screen, it’s hard for us to believe. Be it suffering faced by people of LGBT community ( social exclusion) or the hardship faced by immigrants due to the impact of war.

Same goes with mental health! 

Talking about your mental disorder is seen as a taboo not only in poor developing countries like Nepal and Srilanka but also in G7 countries like the USA and the UK. With the boom of the internet and various social media, people are slowly getting aware about mental health and have started making it a priority. One of the main reasons for this is movies and series being made on the subject of various mental disorders and their impact. While Hollywood is far ahead of other movie industries in showcasing realistic portraits of mental health, our neighboring industry; Bollywood is also trying its best.

But, is Bollywood even close to showcasing the vulnerability to this complicated subject? 

James McAvoy played a character with 23 different personalities in Split (2016). While McAvoy impressed everyone with his acting, the movie grabbed a lot of attention on which most of them had positive feedback for the movie. Similarly, Joker (2019) took us through the mind of a mentally unstable failed comedian who after being bullied his whole life for his strange illness turns out to be a cult outlaw. From What’s Eating Gilbert Grape ( 1993) to Silver Linings Playbook (2012), Hollywood in most of its ventures dealing with mental health has been honest and successful in the subject. Whereas Bollywood apart from rare journeys like Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Dear Zindagi (2016) has failed completely on most of the occasions when it has chosen mental disorders as its main plot. Anjanna Anjanee (2010) , Krazzy 4 (2008) and the famous Shahrukh Khan starrer Darr (1993) are few examples of such movies of which makers themselves seem to be lost about the disorder they were trying to tell the audiences about. 

Bollywood’s obsession of showing everything can be achieved by love has not spared mental health too. No matter if you have Dissociative identity disorder (DID) aka split personality disorder or suicidal depression, if you find a partner to express your emotional and physical desire, you are cured over one song in the background. Such was the plot of Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra starrer Anjanna Anjanee. Two people having suicidal depression stumble upon each other by coincidence and get cured once they make love to one another. Sounds senseless right? But wait,  what if I tell you, in Bhool Bhulaiyaa, US returned-world famous psychologist, Akshay Kumar’s character treats Vidhya Balan suffering from DID with a theatre act and a split session of hypnosis. 

Things get even more bizarre when in Tanu Weds Manu Returns the couple is getting a marriage counselling session in an asylum. Yes, you heard it right! But, makers don’t stop there. The movie also ends with Madhavan’s character being admitted there for reasons we’re still trying to figure out. 

In Karthik Calling Karthik (2010) makers tried their best to show the main protagonist having schizophrenia but what they failed in was they used the wrong term in itself. While Farhan Akhtar’s character – Karthik shows the severe symptoms of dissociative identity disorder his psychologist diagnoses him with schizophrenia. 

Bollywood has toyed a lot with stories with mental health in most cases but few movies are highly praiseworthy for their realistic approach in such complicated and important topics. Dear Zindagi (2016) which dealt with acute depression didn’t do well at the box office.But it surely won many hearts through its soothing realistic writing and brilliant acting performances by Alia Bhatt and Shahrukh Khan. From the early symptoms of acute depression shown by Alia Bhatt’s character to counselling sessions between Khan and Bhatt were so well written that the movie in itself works as a counselling session of 2 and a half hours.

Similarly in Pink ( 2016) even though the main plot of the movie revolved around physical harassment, Amitabh Bachhan’s character Deepak Sehgal, a lawyer to the protagonists suffers from bipolar disorder constantly shows the severe symptoms. He has mood swings, he feels difficult while expressing directions, he has sleepless nights and easily gets distracted even in the middle of heated courtroom arguments. In the movie, Bachhan has adapted small nuisances that bipolar patients might go through their daily life. He and the writers clearly seem to have done a fair number of researches for the role. 

No matter how the seasoning of the food is, if it feeds the hungry, it has done its job. Similarly in today’s society where speaking and talking about mental illness is a taboo, taking a step and telling a story about it is a praise worthy task in itself. Yes, it would be great if the story is cent percent accurate but still we cannot deny that these mixed bags of bollywood movies with mental health issues are doing some amount of work in spreading the awareness about mental health. 

We hope that our Nepali film industry will also take responsibility and bring good content dealing with mental health as it really has become essential in today’s context to spread awareness among various classes, gender and geography in a tiny little yet beautiful nation filled with beautiful people. It’s time to move ahead from larger than life stories and tell stories about people with mental disorders and let them know we all stand together, as every story matters.

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