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Bollywood pegs hope on special roles

Inspired by Taare Zameen Par, Bollywood now turns to special roles in order to get audiences to the theatres.
IANS | By Priyanka Khanna, New Delhi,
UPDATED ON APR 14, 2008 06:59 PM IST

A common thread running through over-the-top comic caper Krazzy 4 and sombrely romantic U, Me Aur Hum is the theme of mental illness.

While actor Ajay Devgan has chosen Alzheimer's, which leads to gradual memory loss, as the subject for his directorial debut U Me Aur Hum actor-turned-filmmaker Rakesh Roshan has depicted the world from the eyes of four mentally unstable men in the much hyped Krazzy 4.

In the former, Kajol, one of Bollywood's most talented female actors, essays the role of a young woman who suffers from Alzheimer's. How the aliment tests her marriage forms the core of the film, which tries to strike a balance with a breezy first half.

The last time Kajol was seen on the big screen was in Fanaa in which she portrayed the role of a visibly challenged Kashmiri girl to perfection. The actor has become very selective after her marriage to Ajay and it seems she is willing to take up only very special roles.

And such roles are coming by much more frequently in Bollywood, which is desperately seeking to break the mould in a bid to keep its increasingly discerning audiences hooked.

"After a spate of movies featuring roles of physically challenged people, including Black and Iqbal on one hand and slapsticks like Pyare Mohan and Tom, Dick and Harry on the other, Mumbai dream merchants now seem to be focusing on tales of the mentally challenged," said a trade observer.

Ajay's film comes on the heels of superstar Aamir Khan's directorial debut Taare Zameen Par which was based on autism. The film, a surprise blockbuster, took a sensitive view of the differently-abled and promoted inclusiveness.

On a less serious note, Krazzy 4 which also released Friday, brings together acting powerhouses like Irfan Khan, Juhi Chawla and Arshad Warsi in an attempt to trickle the funny bone and at the same time deliver a moral message.

Produced by Rakesh Roshan, the film is a comedy about four mentally unstable men and how their view of a world, which is going increasingly insane, makes more sense.

The film that features two special item numbers by Shah Rukh Khan and Rakhi Sawant, respectively, and one promotional number by heartthrob Hrithik Roshan has generated a lot of buzz but is also facing rough weather.

The controversy surrounding the film's music has died down but now the film has been branded as "insensitive" for its portrayal of the mentally ill.

A concerned citizen, Rukmini Pillai, has filed a complaint with the Central Board of Film Certification, stating: "The filmmakers need to be more attuned to the social fabric and appreciate that people with mental illnesses aren't just lying on the streets and in asylums."

Earlier, Pillai had reportedly succeeded in securing three cuts to the film

Woh Lamhe

which depicted schizophrenic film star Parveen Babi.

For long, the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry represented the mentally challenged as comic supporting characters that add an amusing sideshow to the central story.

Dinesh Bhugra, who has written a book that analysis depiction of mental illness in Hindi films, says that compared with Hollywood's portrayal of psychological ailments, Indian cinema is perhaps less enlightened.

"There are fewer Bollywood films that look at mental illness in a serious and sympathetic way," he said.

This, he argues, gives an impression that "Indian cinema may be 30 to 40 years behind Hollywood's image of psychiatry."

Remember Salman Khan in Kyon Ki where the lead's illness bears no resemblance to any realistic mental illness, Ajay in Main Aisa Hi Hoon which tried hard to deal with autism, and Hrithik in Koi Mil Gaya where he has a developmental disorder about which almost nothing is known, except perhaps that it's 'cute'.

Most such films played up mental illness for pathos, trying very hard to make their protagonists earn the audience's sympathy, but came out as non-serious.

At the same time, films like 15 Park Avenue and Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara had their heart in the right place, but not the marketing power.

It remains to be seen whether films like U, Me Aur Hum and Krazzy 4 can find the balance between marketability and sensitivity like Taare Zameen Par did.

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