B’wood’s ‘challenged’ act

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Taare Zameen Par started a wave of films based on mental health disorders. The current crop of movies like MNIK, Paa and Karthik Calling Karthik, focus on new age ailments like Asperger’s syndrome, progeria and psychosis respectively. For the longest time, characters with disabilities were used as a comedy prop in Hindi films like Krazzy Four, Pyare Mohan and Tom, Dick and Harry. It is only with recent movies that directors have adopted a more a sensitive approach towards the subject.

Taare Zameen Par started a wave of films based on mental health disorders. The current crop of movies like MNIK, Paa and Karthik Calling Karthik, focus on new age ailments like Asperger’s syndrome, progeria and psychosis respectively. This trend seems to be working at the box office as well. For the longest time, characters with disabilities were used as a comedy prop in Hindi films like Krazzy Four, Pyare Mohan and Tom, Dick and Harry. It is only with recent movies that directors have adopted a more a sensitive approach towards the subject.

Kannada star Ramesh Aravind, who has portrayed a mentally challenged person in the Malayalam flick Avan Anantha-padmanaban feels it stretches the actor’s boundaries. “It’s a great challenge to act in such films,” he says. Portraying a character with a mental illness can be the fast-track to accolades and stardom.”

Film critic Mayank Shekar believes this to be true. “Actors are looking for critical acclaim and this is a challenging way to get that.” Adds Aravind, “Commercial films tend to show elements which are of dramatic interest unlike medical documentaries. Obviously ‘the story teller’s license’ is used to make the film connect better with the audience. Hence these films bring awareness about a condition though not always accurately. But Taare Zameen Par conveyed the point beautifully.”

Author Dinesh Bhugra’s book Mad Tales from Bollywood is an analysis of the depiction of mental illness in Hindi films. He says as compared with Hollywood’s portrayal of psychological ailments, Bollywood films are at least 30-40 years behind. “There are fewer Bollywood films that look at mental illness in a serious and sympathetic way,” he states.

Mayank feels there’s no definite reason why these films are being scripted except that it justifies the story line. “What’s important is whether they are sensitive to the character or not. KCK is too structured to figure out. It’s not a film on schizophrenia per se. They need to justify it to make it believable. Paa on the other hand was very sensitive. Despite the genre being comedy, they managed to pull off a very sensitive film. MNIK is something that the story line demanded. It’s a dramatic story that couldn’t be told by a normal man!”

Actor Sharwanand thinks sensitive films are not always commercially viable. The sudden mushrooming of films depicting various illnesses has more to do with the desire to make responsible cinema. The fact that these films are commercially viable is of secondary importance. I don’t think Bollywood biggies like Amitabh, Aamir and Shah Rukh would merely jump onto the bandwagon simply for its hype. These are sensitive films.

Mani Shankar, director feels  Bollywood is all about making a buck. Tomorrow if someone makes a whacko comedy that has handicapped people being ridiculed and goes on to be a grosser, many movies on those lines will be made. Filmmakers will make whatever makes money. Also, the audience is very mercurial in taste and they themselves aren’t sure what they want. It changes just like the wind.

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