Psychiatrists condemn Bollywood mantra of using depression to spice reel life

Films being films, they are far from the truth, especially when it comes to portraying mental illness of a protagonist. Psychiatrists at the 16th Psychiatry meet here, feel that scriptwriters and producers usually use psychiatric illnesses as condiments to cook a spicy movie, not actually bothering to go into the finer points of psychiatry.

One of the leading city-based consultant psychiatrists, Dr Vinay Kumar, national treasurer for Indian Psychiatry Association, feels that while portraying psychiatric illnesses, filmmakers usually use their figment of imagination, especially when it comes to etiology, diagnostic criteria and management methods. In doing so, they dismiss the entire scientific endeavour in the field of psychiatric research.

“Producers do not hesitate to go abroad to shoot a dream sequence as in ‘Dharabi’, more often than not, but they do not visit a psychiatrist in their city to discuss the rationale of a dream sequence and its psychological analysis and implications,” laments Kumar.

Bollywood, he feels, is not an island of absolute mental health. It is as much, if not more, exposed to mental illness, as is the world where more than 10% population is affected by some or the other mental disorder. Rather, he says, Bollywood is more exposed to the risk of developing psychiatric morbidity due to the stressful nature of work, financial uncertainties and persistent threat from the underworld.

To buttress his point, Dr Kumar cites the example of paranoid schizophrenia of Parveen Babi, the suicide of Guru Dutt, chronic alcoholism of Meena Kumari and Moti Lal and the slipping into oblivion of Manisha Koirala. These, he says, are just the tip of the iceberg of mental morbidities in Bollywood.

Though he agrees that a filmmaker is not expected to teach psychiatry, he says it is expected of every good producer to present a storyline, which is scientifically flawless.

Critical of the psychiatric depiction in some Bollywood blockbusters like ‘Khamoshi, ‘Khilona’, ‘Mr India’, ‘Darr’, ‘Anjam’, ‘Bemisal’, ‘Prahar’ and many more, Dr Kumar says things are not simple in psychiatry.

Talking about ‘Khamoshi’, he says love is used as a cinematic substitute for psychotherapy in which the doctor experiments with a beautiful nurse (Waheeda Rehman) who cures two patients (Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna). Though the nurse’s love cures the patients, she fails to manage ‘counter transference’ (patient’s influence on psychotherapist).

Dr Kumar says, “Loss of love is not the only cause of depression and real life depression is quite different from reel life depression. In real life, psychotherapist is a trained person and psychotherapy is a well formulated treatment option. Besides, a doctor will never ask a nurse to play a lover to a patient and go out with him for boating and singing on a moonlit night.”

Dr Kumar also takes a dig at ‘Khilona’, in which violent loss of love leaves Sanjeev Kumar depressed and mad and the only treatment he receives is care and love of the heroine. In fact, the movie shows him becoming alright after seeing the violent death of the villain. “What a treatment option! Mr Director, were anti-depressants out of market or electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) instrument (used to give shock treatment to patients) out of order?” asks Dr Kumar.

Crime, he says, is a prime subject for Bollywood filmmakers. Over a period of time, they have sensitised viewers to appreciate and enjoy crime. In most of the films, crime is performed, (not committed) with all theatrical loudness and over acting. These Bollywood villains are more or less suitable examples of narcissistic (Gabbar of ‘Sholay’ and Mogambo of ‘Mr India’) and psychopathic (Shahrukh Khan of ‘Darr’ & ‘Anjam’) personality disorders. “As far as management of these cases are concerned, our filmmakers prefer to kill the protagonist,” he regrets.

Dr Kumar believes one cannot expect sensitive picturisation from ‘masala’ (spicy) filmmakers. “But it becomes more painful when we see intellectually and culturally sensitive directors failing in their duties. Remember ‘Bemisal’ in which Amitabh Bachchan plays a psychotic patient? The film is based on a famous Bengali novel and is directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Despite the congregation of big names, this film gives the message, that reactive psychosis is incurable. Another film is ‘Prahar’ by N Chandra in which Nana Patekar plays a hypomanic. What a civilised, organised and issue focused hypomanic he is! In this film, the director has tailored a commercially hit form of mood disorder,” the expert adds.

Satish Kaushik must learn that schizophrenics are not chained and ill treated in mental hospitals. The scene of mental hospital in ‘Tere Naam’ is far from reality. Also Priyadarshan, the director of ‘Kyonki…’ should know that ECT is not applied brutally. Nowadays, it is given under anaesthesia. By and large, he says, non real, misunderstood and fear instilling presentation of mentally ill patients is a rule in movies. But this ugly and unwelcome rule has few pleasant and welcome exceptions - ‘Basera’ being one.

For Dr Kumar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’ ‘Black’ is much higher on social commitment scale. ‘Black’, he says, is a beautiful poetry of human courage, commitment and creativity. The tone of film is so positive and inspiring that Bhansali’s over expectation from degenerating neurons can be overlooked.

Apart from Bengali, Marathi cinema can now claim that it has done justice to mental illness. Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar’s Marathi film ‘Devrai - The Sacred Grove’ is a thought provoking film on the subject.

Hindi cinema, Dr Kumar feels, is yet to mend its ways of handling psychiatric issues. It must come forward and collaborate with psychiatrists to create awareness in the myth and misconception loaded society. Bollywood filmmakers must learn to look into ailing minds with empathy. Only then they will sing the songs of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (an Oscar winner in which Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winner mathematician John Nash who had schizophrenia), he signs off.


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