Bollywood's sugar-coated bitter pill
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Bollywood's sugar-coated bitter pill

While I would of course defend the sanctity of any story, I also believe that those who create the pop culture that shapes one billion mindsets should be more responsible. Anuya Jakatdar writes.

india Updated: May 24, 2013 01:38 IST
Bollywood,mental illness,Ek Thi Daayan

I recently had both the pleasure and the pain of acquainting myself with thriller Ek Thi Daayan. Pleasure because my friend paid for it. Pain because of almost everything else, including the sex/love/Wrestlemania 2013 scene between Huma and Emraan who share as a great on-screen chemistry. And that wasn't even the worst part.

Since Emraan Hashmi could see the Daayan - named Daayana, quite obviously - for who she truly was and didn't understand that he was dealing with something supernatural, he sought medical help. When he continued to have a problem, however, his fiance, the sensitive and understanding Huma, was seen yelling at his shrink, "Acchey khaase aadmi ko paagal bana diya." Because going to a shrink makes you insane. Just like watching an apple fall to the ground makes you Isaac Newton.

Bollywood has no idea how to deal with characters that grapple with mental health issues. It doesn't even like to acknowledge that everyone - you, me, and everyone around us are all plagued with issues that a good old run-of-the-mill visit to a doctor can deal with.

In Daayan, the shrink is part comic-relief, part hypnotist, part side character who you know is going to die, because of the foreshadowing all Bollywood directors like to spoon-feed us with. In Bhoot, the doctor is brought in when Urmila Matondkar's possessed character starts behaving strangely. In Bhoot 2, another practitioner is introduced in a similar situation. That's not just one, but three supernatural movies depicting psychiatric help in some manner. Could that be a coincidence? I believe the answer we're all looking for is a resounding 'no'.

According to a 2006 research paper by Christoph Lauber and Wulf Rossler that studies the stigma towards mental illness in developing Asian countries, a supernatural, religious or magical approach to mental illness is very common in the third world. Any advocate of an art that imitates life's theories will take it upon himself or herself to justify Bollywood's depiction. The industry is arguably just mirroring what our people believe in anyway.

While I would of course defend the sanctity of any story, I also believe that those who create the pop culture that shapes one billion mindsets should be more responsible. There's rigorous policing when it comes to the portrayal of smoking, and now more recently, item numbers, but no one stops to examine the impact of the more subtle forms of stereotyping. And calling someone who goes to a psychiatrist 'crazy' is the worst kind, because it is callously encouraging viewers to stigmatise those who have a mental problem.

It's all a bit difficult really, because as a society we'd rather not deal with mental problems. If we have a stomach ache or an allergic reaction, we go to a doctor, but if we have a panic attack, or nightmares, or have trouble just dealing with a major life change, we pretend that the right thing to do is ignore it and soldier on. We're too afraid to tell our parents or friends - terrified of what they might think, of being judged - when more often than not, the solution is a simple visit to a doctor who's qualified to treat you with medication or psychotherapy.

So Bollywood, unless you're also advocating giving up on all sorts of medical treatments, living in large communal huts and singing Kumbaya till we die at the ripe old age of 25, don't tell us that shrinks are only for crazy people. We're all crazy in one way or the other. We love movies in which people burst into spontaneous, perfectly choreographed song and dance routines and heroes can demolish entire kingdoms with one arm. If that isn't totally insane, I don't know what is.

Anuya Jakatdar is a freelance writer and social media consultant. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: May 23, 2013 18:47 IST