10 Bollywood Movies That Got Mental Illness (Mostly) Right
Sidharth Iyer writes
Mental health is an integral part of health and wellness among individuals. It broadly refers to an array of activities directly or indirectly related to the mental well-being, prevention of mental disorders, and treatment and rehabilitation of people affected by mental disorders.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) – over 90 million Indians, or 7.5% of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, suffer from some form of mental disorder. Nearly 35% of India’s population is between the ages of 15 and 34 years, according to the government’s statistics. And suicide was the leading cause of deaths among young people – aged 15 to 39 – in 2016, according to Lancet Global Health Study.
Further, India has 9,000 psychiatrists or one doctor for every 100,000 people. The desirable number of psychiatrists is three for every 100,000 people. This means India has a shortage of 18,000 mental health doctors.
Bollywood and Mental Health
Bollywood – or specifically the Mumbai-based Hindi language film industry – has come a long way in the way the films would categorize almost every kind of mental illness or disorder under the term, ‘madness’. Do the words: ‘yeh pagal hai, isko paagalkhane lejao’, ring a bell?
Over the last two decades, filmmakers have shown some maturity and sensitivity when it comes to the portrayal of mental illness in movies, barring a few who didn’t quite understand the depth of portraying the characteristic symptoms of the troubled protagonists through the narrative.
But the ones that did get it right, carried forward a strong message for those experiencing mental health issues.
Let’s look at 10 such Bollywood movies that hit the right notes when dealing with the topic of Mental Health.
Aparna Sen’s ‘15 Park Avenue’ is a cinematic masterpiece. It revolves around Meethi (Konkona Sen Sharma) who suffers from Schizophrenia. It beautifully portrays the effects Schizophrenia has on the victim, her family, and relationships. It’s realistic, emotional, and will be on your mind for days.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling. People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment.
This 2005 movie – ‘Black’ – is critically-acclaimed, that stars Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherji and centers around Rani Mukherji and her multiple challenges and on Amitabh Bachchan’s role as a teacher. Bachchan develops Alzheimer’s Disease later, a plot twist to show a reversal of roles where the student now helps her ex-teacher.
The movie includes some good scenes where Bachchan shows the early confusion/ disorientation. However, it does not show enough of the deterioration or problems of daily life, etc. The onset and progression of Alzheimer’s are not fleshed out.
However, the awareness that the movie created around Alzheimer’s is praiseworthy and a lot of doctors refer to the character of Amitabh even till date when they try to explain the condition of loved ones to the lower-income strata groups who may not understand the implications of the disease well.
In 2007, Aamir Khan produced and acted in a film called ‘Taare Zameen Par’, the plot of which revolved around eight-year-old Ishaan and the difficulties he faces because of his condition, dyslexia. It was probably the first time this particular disorder was named in a mainstream Bollywood film. And what the movie managed to do for learning disorders and for children with learning difficulties, is what probably many psychiatrists couldn’t do in spite of extreme hard efforts in the field.
With its tear-jerking portrayal of a child battling dyslexia. The movie shows how the young boy played by Darsheel Safary struggles with the ridicule he faces for behaving in a manner completely normal to him.
The latest science reveals that the dyslexic brain processes are written words differently. They are relying more on Brocca’s areas in the left frontal lobe of the cerebrum whereas strong readers rely more on areas toward the back of the brain, sometimes called the ‘word form’ area between the Occipital and Temporal lobes (close to, but not exactly at, Wernicke’s area).
The story is about Karthik, played by Farhan Akhtar who is a Schizophrenic. This leads to multiple issues in his personal and professional life, despite going to therapy. What’s novel about the movie is that it doesn’t over-dramatize or exaggerate Schizophrenia.
Karthik wasn’t shown as a crazy mad man, he was a normal person who had a mental illness and was learning how to cope with it. ‘Karthik Calling Karthik’ will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout (and also remind you of the Edward Norton & Brad Pitt starrer ‘Fight Club’ in places).
In the movie ‘My Name is Khan’ Shah Rukh Khan played a man afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. He received wide acclaim for his accurate portrayal of the character and is said to have done a lot of research on the topic. Asperger’s Syndrome can be classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This condition is characterized by significant difficulties in social interactions.
The film never explicitly explains what Asperger’s is, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that Khan is different from his family and peers and that this difference stems from his disorder. Nevertheless, the greatest triumph of the film is that it portrays the condition not as something that limits Khan, but rather as something that enriches both him and everyone around him.
‘Barfi!’ explores a complicated relationship between a deaf and mute person (Ranbir Kapoor), an autistic person (Priyanka Chopra) and a regular person (Ileana D’Cruz). It was a refreshing film which draws us into the world of the disabled without carrying the weight of pity.
The handling of the story is something to marvel at. It’s put together with tender compassion and the conclusion is powerful and hugely impacting. The finest thing about the film is its power to move and transform on several occasions. It’s the depiction of love and sacrifice that makes Barfi! worthwhile.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental, influences.
The movie ‘Heroine’ had leading lady Kareena Kapoor suffering from bipolar disorder. While the movie does not entirely focus on her illness, but rather how the illness leads to the downfall of her career, it still helped in throwing light on the condition and its management.
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder also called manic-depressive disorder is a mood disorder and people usually experience disruptive mood swings that range from a frenzied state known as mania to depression. These extreme mood swings are separated by a ‘normal phase’ as well. The prevalence of this condition is the same in men and women, and across all ethnic groups.
In ‘Tamasha’, Ranbir Kapoor plays Vir who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. One moment he’s carefree, reckless, and animated, and in the next, e is shy, reserved, and dull.
The movie shows how this affects his relationship with his girlfriend Tara, played by Deepika Padukone, and dives deep into his childhood and family life to explain his illness.
Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha deals with the intricacies of relationships of an individual with personality disorder and does justice to the characteristics showcased by people suffering from the ailment.
‘Dear Zindagi’ is one of the movies that are entirely around the topic of mental health. In the movie,Kaira (played by Alia Bhatt), is a cinematographer who suffers from deep-rooted psychological and abandonment issues that stem from her childhood. She realizes this and seeks therapy from Jug, an unconventional therapist played by Shah Rukh Khan.
The movie narrates her journey of self-development, healing, and cover. It broke barriers because it was not only relatable for many young adults today, but it also normalized therapy, and the need to seek expert’s advice when it comes to talking about one’s Mental Health & Wellbeing.
In ‘Chhichhore’, Sushant Singh Rajput (†) played the role of a teen’s dad. His son tries to end his life on finding out that he has not qualified the IIT. And as a father Sushant Singh narrates the story of his college days which has a lesson on how no one is a loser.
The film follows the hostel life of Sushant and his six friends. And gives us the glimpse of the story of how once branded as losers they fight to earn the respect of the same individuals who branded them as losers.
The movie shows us how we can change our life and make the best of what we’ve got. It also points to the common problems of parental pressure on children and shows the effects of peer pressure as well.
The Positive Impact of Movies
Unfortunately, in our society, our conversations on mental health are more often than not brushed under the rug and we have not been encouraged to discuss it or seek help.
While we often chastise Bollywood for giving us cliched movies, there are times when they have given us gems that dealt with the serious topic of mental health. And, while sometimes there can be great scientific and medical inaccuracies, there are times when the movie does justice to the theme and make us contemplate the lives of those living with the ailments as well.
Bollywood may still not be the ideal place for the factual representation of mental health, but then there are sensible and responsible filmmakers & writers who are trying to do right by it. It’s a small step, but nonetheless, a step in the right direction.