Movies, Disorders and Diseases

Before Hollywood blockbuster Avatar completely took over our minds, everybody was talking about Paa, a movie based on a rare genetic disorder in which the afflicted person ages prematurely. So we had Amitabh Bachchan playing Auro, a 12 year old who has the body of an 80 year old. Now my memory played games with me and reminded me of some of our movies based on some disease or the other.

While it was cancer in the yesteryears, the current norm is illnesses about which nobody has ever heard of until our protagonists decide to acquaint us with these rare syndromes. Pro these thoughts and after watching the trailers of yet to release Shahrukh starrer, My Name is Khan, I did a little net surfing and found out that in the movie the protagonist is suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome (????). A little more net search informed me that it is an autism disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and behaviour. Now I did not want to search further to enhance my knowledge on autism as I was convinced till then that it will lead to another net search and then another till I was stuck in a vicious cycle of knowing all these diseases.

So while millions cried and laughed with cancer suffering Rajesh Khanna in Anand and Safar, Jaya Bachchan in Mili and Shahrukh in Kal Ho Na Ho, Ajay Devgan also tried to tear jerk his way to the box office as he played this grown up kid trying to fight for the custody of his daughter in Main Aisa Hi Hoon. Sanjay Leela Bhansali also successfully showed the struggle of a blind, mute and deaf girl in his movie, Blind. And not to forget Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par showcasing dyslexia. Now it makes me wonder why all these filmmakers have this obsession to show some form of diseases on the screen (another obsession being post 9/11 USA and conditions of Muslims there). And why all these afflicted protagonists are always so cheerful and completely devoid of any form of self pity? Why are they always trying to bring a smile to everybody’s face and trying to make world a better place? Is this the success formula of the films; make the audience laugh with the soon to die protagonist and then make them cry when they finally die. Duh!

Why are our filmmakers so inclined towards portraying illnesses on screen? Are they sure shot formula to set the cash registers ringing at the BO or yet again the influence of Hollywood with movies like Forest Gump, Rain Man, Curious Case of Benjamin Button etc. One can certainly argue that such movies also save them from a lot of criticism as one doesn’t want to be termed as insensitive criticizing such movies based on sensitive topics. Moreover, I would certainly agree that emotional connect of such movies is certainly much stronger than other movies. Just the mention of the illness is enough to send audience running to the theatres to watch it to see how the illness has been used in the movie and the struggle of the protagonist. I also wonder why always our male actors are burdened with the task of projecting these diseases (except for few exceptions). Is it the fact that women are more emotional and likely to shed more tears on seeing their favourite actors die on-screen and the fact that boys don’t cry!

So whether it is just instigating the curiosity level of the audience by showcasing some unknown disease in the film or just making a movie based on common diseases like cancer and AIDS, it is just a selling point for the filmmakers. Though these movies also provide us with a lot of information (TZP made a lot of parents realize their kids’ problem), these movies can also be termed as a sincere effort to move away from the regular love-dance Hindi movies and trying to establish a different genre for our cinema.

Shikha Tandon

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