Working class malady - Bollywood’s on-screen illnesses!

Friday, December 3, 2010

NEW DELHI - Progeria, paraplegia, anterograde amnesia - Bollywood’s current portrayal of unusual ailments might be drawing applause from the elite, but it is leaving front benchers baffled.

If Hrithik Roshan’s recent portrayal of a paraplegic who appeals for euthanasia in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Guzaarish” is any indication, the working class audience is ending up somewhat enlightened but also somewhat afraid.

“If someone is really facing trouble due to health issues, we often say she or he should better die for relief but I was not aware that such things can be a point of discussion in high society circles too as shown in ‘Guzaarish’. And the paraplegic part too was something new for me,” Ramakant Mohanty, who works as a chauffeur, told IANS.

“Ab jab bhi gaadi chalata hoon, zyaada dhyaan deta hoon kyunki darr lagta hai. (Now whenever I drive, I’m more cautious because that fear lurks in the back of my mind),” he added.

Megastar Amitabh Bachchan stunned people with his National Award-winning stint as a progeria-affected 12-year-old in “Paa” and Aamir Khan brought to the shore anterograde amnesia in Hindi cinema’s biggest grosser “Gajini”.

Sanjay Singh, a house painter from Uttar Pradesh, who watched “Paa” while whitewashing a house, still scratches his head when asked to explain progeria.

“I was aware of a disease where people age rapidly but I had no idea that they would look like an 80-year-old when they were 16 or 17. I still haven’t understood how that is possible and it leaves goosebumps whenever I discuss such diseases with my friends,” said Singh, who tried hard but couldn’t pronounce progeria.

Hrithik also tried putting forth the problems faced by a developmentally disabled individual in “Koi…Mil Gaya”. Superstar Shah Rukh Khan tried highlighting Asperger Syndrome in “My Name Is Khan” while Aamir created an impact by portraying the problems faced by dyslexic children in his directorial debut “Taare Zameen Par”.

Apart from raising awareness about lesser known ailments among the oblivious lot, the A-list starrer medical dramas do end up injecting fear in many minds.

“Such portrayal of diseases in Hindi movies can have a positive or a negative effect on people like us who don’t know much about such maladies,” Kanhaiya Lal, a paan seller from Kanpur, told IANS.

“It can be positive in the way that viewers become aware of the disease and its effects and become cautious, and negative in the sense that it may create a fear about such health disorders in uneducated and orthodox households like ours,” he added.

Arshad Warsi and Konkona Sen Sharma introduced audiences to schizophrenia in “Krazzy 4″ and “15 Park Avenue” respectively, while Kajol and Big B brought to the screen Alzheimer’s disease in “U Me Aur Hum” and “Black” respectively. In “Luck”, heartthrob Imran Khan had dextrocardia, a rare medical condition in which a person is born with his heart on the right side.

Meeta Mahar, an associate professor with the Institute of Clinical Research India (ICRI), says movies help in raising awareness.

“Films on diseases definitely create an awareness among the labour class. If these films are viewed by them, it helps in the diagnosis, support and treatment of such cases. However, owing to their ‘masala’ seeking taste, it is unlikely that such films would be viewed by them, unless a special screening is held for them,” Mahar told IANS.

Samir Parikh, consultant psychiatrist at Max Healthcare, said: “Cinema has a very good reach in society; it has the power to educate people and make them sensitive to medical issues; and when done with good research and presented with facts and sensitivity, it is a welcome step. Films also help in reducing stigma.”

Bijay Pyakurel, a domestic help of Nepali origin, however, pointed out that the medical terms are a major hurdle in their understanding of such diseases.

“We are really fond of Bollywood movies but most of them are so much in new Hindi (Hinglish) that we find it difficult to understand. Sab bimari ka naam samajh mein nahi aata hai (We don’t understand the medical terms). But, yes, the acting does make us realise about the disease,” said Pyakurel.

(Robin Bansal can be contacted at

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