Mental health in Indian cinema
By exaggerating mental illness filmmakers believe they feed the audience humor, drama, and entertainment. Seeing popular actors as mentally ill patients many people would identify similar issues in them selfless and feel less stigmatized.
The Indian film industry is worth $2.7 billion making it the third-largest in the world. It is known for masala musical drama movies which leave the audience munching popcorns enjoying every bit. The cinema has progressed in the past decade restructuring itself with a more realistic depiction of life.
Unfortunately, the depiction of mental illness is still melodramatic, comical, and romanticized. Presenting mental illness as something to be feared, evaded, laughed at, or denigrated.
The misinterpretation creates false expectations and develops stereotypes relating to mentally ill individuals. We educated and experienced filmmakers end up making baffling movies on the topic.
The mental disorder is wrapped in a beautiful package with dance sequences in Switzerland, unnecessary fight scenes, and miracle recovers. The psychological illness is left without any light being shed on them.
There is so much misinformation given in terms of diagnosis, etiology, and treatment.
For instance, in the movie, Black Amitabh Bachchan's charter suffers from Alzheimer’s but miraculously regains his memory! Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disorder where the neurons die so once some neurons have been destroyed they cannot grow back. It is as impossible as reversing curd to milk! False depictions like this set unrealistic expectations for patients of it being curable.
Romanticizing mental illness is Bollywood's favorite take in movies like Anjana Anjaani, Krazzy 4 and Humshkals Normalize the mockery of mentally ill patients, discrimination, and labeling them using the term "pagal" that means mad. Judgmental hai kya showing crazy as the new normal. Even mental health practitioners in movies have distorted portrayals. Akshay Kumar being a world-renowned psychiatrist turns to an exorcist in Bhool Bhuliya as it being the only viable treatment for dissociative identity disorder. In the web series family man, the lead couple goes for therapy where the therapist goes on tossing quotes to sound witty and giving open advice.
Some movies have done a good job depicting mental health. 15 Park Avenue with schizophrenia, Tamasha with borderline personality disorder, and Margarita with a straw with cerebral palsy have done a remarkable job in conveying the disorders for what they are. Hichki shed light on a neglected disorder like Tourette syndrome showing how if given the chance psychiatric patients can be empowered and Chichhore dealt with parental and exam pressure. Tare Zameen par pictured a dyslexic boy with an authoritarian father who didn't believe there to be an underlying cause blaming his son for not studying well-viewing boarding school as an option to discipline his child. Karthik calling Karthik reiterates love and caring for those battling mental illness when Karthik is diagnosed with Disassociate identity disorder his girlfriend stays by his side and supports him during the treatment process. Dear Zindagi normalized going to therapy for daily life problems and not being ashamed of it.
Mentally ill patients are sketched as characters who are feeble, needy, and strange. A large percentage of the general population believe mentally ill people to be violent, aggressive and dangerous despite research showing weak evidence for the same. Such misconceptions increase discrimination and stigmatization, social stigma from society and self-stigma as well. Psychotherapy scenes are often ridiculed, lack ethics, and conveying speedy recovery mostly over a song sequence.
Except for a few movies Indian filmmakers haven't done much to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. India isn't a country stuck in the dark ages then why the filmmakers don’t make more movies representing mental illness correctly! The depiction is improving but still, there is a long way to go. By exaggerating mental illness filmmakers believe they feed the audience humor, drama, and entertainment. Seeing popular actors as mentally ill patients many people would identify similar issues in them selfless and feel less stigmatized. This isn't making a mountain of a molehill. Misrepresentation leads to stigmatization and prejudice against patients. If the movies would be able to portray the correct pain and experiences the audience would surely take home something. Films always have the power to reach out and influence the masses. Influence and It would make them see mental illness in a different light forcing them to start thinking about it differently as well. By authentic depiction audience is introduced to new thinking, asking for help, going for therapy, and ultimately creating a change in attitude towards mental illness.
Just like any other issue, mental illness needs deeper examination. Filmmakers should be related to how they can produce content that leaves views with more answers than questions. Deception matters, details matter, and getting content right matters.