Actors Kalki Koechlin and Anushka Sharma both portrayed characters with cerebral palsy in Margarita With a Straw and Zero respectively.
Actors Kalki Koechlin and Anushka Sharma both portrayed characters with cerebral palsy in Margarita With a Straw and Zero respectively.

International Day of Disabled Persons: Bollywood has had a tryst with representation of the specially abled, but are we still missing the mark?

Over the years, quite a few Bollywood films have had specially abled characters, but has the portrayal been on point? Do there need to be more films which highlight the problems they face? Is the funding a problem? We talk to experts on the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities for the answers to these questions.
Hindustan Times | By Rishabh Suri, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 02, 2020 03:40 PM IST

The portrayal and representation of the specially abled has never had an impeccable track record in Bollywood. It’s rare when filmmakers and actors end up hitting the right spot. There have been plenty of films in the recent times which showed the protagonist as someone with a special ability — Hrithik Roshan played a visually challenged man in Kaabil (2017), and wheelchair bound in Guzaarish, Shah Rukh Khan played a dwarf in Zero (2018), while his co-star Anushka Sharma played a character who had cerebral palsy.

What do actors and makers feel about the way it’s all been done till date? We get talking to them on the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities:


Shonali Bose, director of Margarita With a Straw (2014), which had Kalki Koechlin play a character with cerebral palsy, doesn’t agree with specially abled people being represented properly today, as compared to earlier times, in films. 

“We had a beautiful film like Sparsh (1980) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Khamoshi: The Musical (1996). We can’t put a blanket statement that pehle galat tha. For instance, look at Zero, the way cerebral palsy (was shown) was really unfortunate, it wasn’t an authentic portrayal at all. I don’t agree that it has changed today. Margarita… was a rare film, in which the character wasn’t put on a pedestal, or we didn’t pity her, it was totally authentic,” she says.

Echoing the same sentiments is actor Sayani Gupta, who played a visually challenged character in Bose’s film. She feels things have not really changed, “you see very bad representation mostly, carelessly done. I am not going to name, but there have been cases where it was extremely badly done. Either you get somebody who has that capability, or cast actors, which most of the times, you have to. There has to be a lot of research, and a lot of practice and workshops.”


The one thing which the industry find to be a hurdle, be it in terms of making a film which has a special abled protagonist, or cast real people in such roles, is finance.  

While films usually attain tax free status after the release, what about a scenario where there is some kind of funding or government help provided before and during the course of shoot?

Director Anurag Basu agrees. His two films, Barfi! (2013) and Jagga Jasoos (2017), both saw actor Ranbir Kapoor play the roles of an aurally, verbally challenged man, and a stammering detective, respectively. “It is there in other countries. There are hardly any films (here) which are government funded. Having said that, it’s not that easy. People can always take advantage of any funding, so there should be a proper panel, and someone on board who can judge and approve a script,” says the 46-year-old. 

Bose adds that if there is no institutional support from the government in the form of grants, things are “very difficult”. She elaborates that the stress, from the producer’s side, is always on a ‘star’. “The Sky is Pink was very easy to make compared to Margarita… as Priyanka (Chopra Jonas, actor) and Farhan (Akhtar) were in it. Even though Kalki is well-known, but not big enough a star that I could either pull in money to make or release the film. It was very difficult,” she says.

Shreyas Talpade, however feels that things have definitely changed. In his debut film Iqbal (2005) itself, he had played the role of an aurally and verbally challenged cricketer. The 44-year-old says, “Whatever representation was there earlier, they used to show them down. There’s definitely a huge difference now, not only in Bollywood, but overall. Earlier they felt they were being mocked. But you also have to understand, we make films, stories which are fictional. There is a certain amount of humour in all our lives. We don’t have to be insensitive, but you shouldn’t be overtly emotional and sensitive and take everything personally.”

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