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No more conventional heroes

Most films slated for release have differently-abled protagonists.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 20:40 IST

By Priyanka Khanna

Conventional heroes are passé if a bunch of films with "special" heroes are anything to go by as they ready to hit the Indian marquees.

A slew of Mumbai-based dream merchants are pegging hopes on these "special" heroes, underdogs who go on to triumph, for tugging on the heartstrings of moviegoers.

While ready-for-release Bollywood productions Pyare Mohan and Tom, Dick and Harry are humorous takes on lives of physically challenged men, a sentimental love story Faana - of a visually impaired girl essayed by none other than Kajol is not far behind.

Meanwhile, Rakesh Roshan is putting finishing touches to Krrish about a hero (Hrithik Roshan) who gets enhanced senses and special powers as a legacy from his much-ridiculed autistic father.

Whether they have hit upon a winning formula will be known soon. Indra Kumar's Pyare Mohan will be released Friday, and Deepak Tijori's Tom, Dick and Harry later this month.

Both comedies feature physically challenged men as protagonists. In Pyare Mohan, Fardeen Khan is blind and Viveik Oberoi is deaf. Tom, Dick and Harry has a deaf Dino Morea, a blind Anuj Sawhney and a mute Jimmy Shergill.

Indra Kumar calls his work a comic love story and Tijori refers to his film as a comedy of errors. What is heartening to note in both films is that all physically challenged men are shown leading normal lives.

Hitherto, the comic genre has relied on playing up human characteristics to derive laughs. Using physical impairment for tickling the funny bone is not often seen in Bollywood.

 Tom, Dick and Harry shows its protagonists leading normal lives despite handicaps

But the Hindi film industry, that has often evoked criticism for its depiction of the mentally challenged must tread cautiously, say trade watchers.

In the recent past, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black had managed to go far deeper into the world of the physically challenged than any other film in the past. Rani Mukherji's portrayal of a blind, deaf and mute girl Michelle McNeely and Shreyas Talpade as a deaf and mute boy in Nagesh Kukunoor's Iqbal, have spurred many clones.

Enacting physically or mentally challenged roles is increasingly becoming a fetish with emerging male and female actors. Even newcomers like Neha Dhupia and Celina Jaitely have done the blind act mainly to romanticise and glamourise the female protagonist's tragic personality and create drama out of sightlessness.

Before Black, very few filmmakers in Bollywood have dared to take up the subject. The best remembered are Sai Paranjpye's Sparsh, Gulzar's Koshish, Rajshri Production's Dosti, T. Rama Rao's Naache Mayuri and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Khamoshi: The Musical.

Indian films that handled mental illness sensitively are not many. Remember Salman Khan in Kyon Ki, where the lead's illness bears no resemblance to any realistic mental illness; Ajay Devgan in Mein Aisa Hi Hoon, which tried hard (with some success) to deal with autism; and Hrithik Roshan in Koi... Mil Gaya, where Hrithik has a developmental disorder about which almost nothing is known, except perhaps that it's "cute".

Most of the 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. But recent sublime works like 15 Park Avenue and Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara give rise to hope that there will be more to come.

With over 80 million disabled people in our country, films that are inclusive and feature differently-abled talents might just have an impact on box-office returns as well.

When media involves the differently-abled talent in their programming, they might just return the gesture by raising the level of the viewership.

If Pyare Mohan and Tom, Dick and Harry are commercially successful and at the same time sensitive - a tough call - we may have a socially relevant and commercially viable possibility here.

First Published: Apr 17, 2006 21:00 IST