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Ambassadors of hope

Indian celebs are coming of age with real stories of survival

brunch Updated: Aug 26, 2018 00:12 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
bigotry,celebs,real stories
Newtons Cradle Happy Drawing on Chalkboard(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I’ve wasted much breath lamenting the fact that our celebrities don’t do enough for the larger community, if anything at all. If they’re not selling us questionable products from oppressive billboards, they’re giving evidence of ignorance, bigotry and general inanity on social-media feeds. Then there are the charities that make no dent in deep pockets but go a long way in cementing socially conscious personas. So it’s a great relief to see a side to the rich and famous that we don’t normally witness. Inviting fans to share in a painful private experience is an act of courage and kindness that gives the much-reviled cult of celebrity a human dignity and grace.

Live, love, laugh

Approaching my 40s, I can honestly say I have more friends and acquaintances that are suffering from some form of mental health issue than not. Few of these conditions are admitted to. Fewer still diagnosed. And almost none spoken about. In a group of friends, the chronic introverts and acutely anxious are treated like weirdos or dullards, the dark cloud over the permanent picnic called life (also sold to us by celebs on billboards). So when one of the most stunning and successful actresses in the industry spoke out about the depression that haunts her, I was both distressed by her story and impressed by her honesty.

When Deepika Padukone came out as being depressed, it was an aha moment for so many of us who often attribute depression to some kind of personal or social inadequacy (Yogen Shah)

When Deepika Padukone came out as being depressed, it was an aha moment for so many of us who often attribute depression to some kind of personal or social inadequacy. Here was someone who had it all. And she was talking about weeping in her vanity van before taking her place in the lights. For no known reason. For a person in her position – and of her gender – to speak so openly about her illness was momentous and liberating. Her Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF )is a welcome agent for the conversation around mental health in our public discourse.

A rare talent

Celebs are invincible. They strut on screen in their perfect costumes, with the perfect make-up, spouting their perfect lines. In this environment of improbably high standards, Irrfan Khan has stood out by being inconspicuous. So, when the architect of such nuanced performances in films like Maqbool, The Namesake, Piku and Haider shared the news about his neuroendocrine tumour, he himself admitted to the irony. “Little had I known that my search for rare stories would make me find a rare disease,” he wrote on Twitter.

Irrfan Khan has stood out by being inconspicuous

What was even rarer than the condition was his generous sharing of an immensely private experience. Celebs have a troubled, co-dependent relationship with the media. There’s muckraking and mud-slinging, with a hungry press mining the pain and shame of distressed stars. Then there’s the perennial concern of health problems ruining one’s career prospects. Irrfan’s occasional statements – on social and other media – are motivational and philosophical. Telling us about his treatment at a hospital close to the Lord’s cricket ground in London, for instance, he spoke wistfully of sport and life. As on screen, his words were deeply impactful. They instil hope in countless others, wrestling their own demons.

Lean in

Sonali Bendre has transitioned well from her awkward acting days to being the caring mom in ads, and celeb judge on TV talent shows. When she was recently diagnosed with a high-grade cancer, it was shocking news. What followed was something that was surprising in itself. The actor allowed us to peep into her world of illness and treatment, using social media to share snippets from these difficult times. She’s not just a style icon now. She’s a style icon who’s also an ambassador of hope.

Sonali Bendre allowed us to peep into her world of illness and treatment, using social media to share snippets from these difficult times

I know people who cut off all social contact when they were diagnosed with a grievous illness. That impulse might be felt even more acutely by celebs, who’re regularly hounded for lurid personal details. So, Bendre’s decision to face the illness head on, keeping well-wishers in the loop, is reassuring. By talking about the illness from different perspectives – sharing the news with her son, her time at the hospital, shaving her head, downtime with friends – Bendre reassures other sufferers that they are not alone in their struggle. To see someone we idolise reflect our own battles makes the suffering less lonely. It’s always heartening to see usually inaccessible celebs reach out to the public in dark times to be comforted and to comfort.

From HT Brunch, August 26, 2018

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First Published: Aug 25, 2018 20:39 IST