Disability Sells – Bollywood in it’s new Avatar

Disability and it’s portrayal in Hindi films was earlier a sideline of the film. Rarely was it the main cover theme of the film, and often it was portrayed as a sympathy factor. The hero’s wheelchair bound sister, or the aged parent who needed to be looked after due to a debilitating condition, these were staples in the feel-good films.

There were a few exceptions – the young boy in Jagriti who broke our hearts with his song – Chalo Chalein Maa; Dosti – a film based on the friendship between a disabled boy and his schoolmate; and of course the amazing Koshish with superlative performances by Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri, as deaf and dumb parents.

Sholay, Khamoshi – a few rare gems:

Sanjeev Kumar doing a dream role of thaakur in Sholay

There are many more which we can talk about – Sadma, Khamoshi, Sholay are a few examples. But the fact remains that in none of them has disability been treated with seriousness and a realistic viewpoint. There were no attempts to talk about the practical problems which they face, about any means of dealing with the disability or about the need to stop treating them like untouchables. You were left with a feeling of sympathy but not with a feeling that you needed to change your attitude. You learnt that there were many who had problems, but not about how the others around them could cope with these situations. The caregiver and caretaker syndrome did not get the importance which they deserved.

The last few years:

Taare Zameen Par

In the last two or three years the picture has changed to some extent. Whether the change is for the better – is a matterof personal opinion and as a member of the audience I tend to believe that not enough has been done – but at least we have taken a few steps in the right direction. Black was one of the most beautiful films dealing with disability. The relationship between a teacher and his student was the foundation on which the film was built, but Rani Mukherjee’s role of a challenged girl was unforgettable. This was followed by Taare Zameen Par, where dyslexia was depicted with understanding and without being melodramatic about it. Next came My Name is Khan, and Asperger’s Syndrome, a  form of Autism was the focus of the story. Paa introduced us to the world of Progeria, a genetic

Rani Mukherjee in Black

condition which not people were familiar with.

There are many other films like these which have brought various debilitating diseases to the forefront for the movie going public. Ghajini – short term amnesia; Kaminey– stammering; Karthik Calling Karthik – schizophrenia; Koi Mil Gaaya – mentally challenged,  are among the leading films in this direction.

But why am I feeling dissatisfied by this trend?

Films are a far more effective medium than seminars or books and they have a far greater impact.

But somewhere I get the feeling that they choose diseases which are rare, which are debilitating and which are loaded with the sympathy factor. Why can we not show a physical disability such as polio and the practical problems associated with it? A hearing disability can be shown with the attempts of the family to learn sign language. Let these characters be a part of the story, but let us not preach. Shahid Kapoor’s stammer in Kaminey should not have become a source of amusement thereby leading to greater ignominy for the real life stammers.

These films have made us realize the existence of these disabilities and to some extent of the sensitivity required when dealing with them, but this is not enough. There has to be a sense of responsibility towards the audience and towards the knowledge that these films can go a long way towards changing our perceptions about disability.

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