TALKING FILMS

Dear doctor, why aren’t all movie therapists as dishy as Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Dear Zindagi’?

Popular cinema has found inventive and often unscientific ways to enliven the intimacy and intensity of therapy sessions.

Gauri Shinde’s heart-warming Dear Zindagi tries to destigmatise psychological therapy, but winds up reducing the process to a few charming witticisms and fortune cookie-esque one liners.

Kaira (Alia Bhatt) turns to psychologist Jehangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) when a series of upsets leaves her reeling with heartache and insomnia. Jehangir (call me Jug) is a character straight out of a Ruskin Bond story – quirky, twinkly-eyed and compassionate.

Dear Zindagi steers clear of leveraging Shah Rukh Khan’s stardom with meta-references to the numerous Rahuls in his past. But it winds up buying into his star image nonetheless, portraying him as a magician who cures the emotionally messy Kaira before we can say Sigmund Freud. But the fault is not only in our stars (cinematic or otherwise). It is also in the cinematic medium.

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‘Dear Zindagi’.

Psychological counselling is a primarily verbal activity, especially when it takes the form of the conventional talking cure. Cinema, on the other hand, is an overwhelmingly visual medium. It is often difficult to translate the intimacy and intensity of a therapy session into an engaging cinematic sequence. It is even harder to cram in the lengthy, inconsistent and often tedious process of psychotherapy into a manageable running time.

This has not prevented Hindi filmmakers from trying, though. They have navigated around these limitations with different techniques – by interspersing therapy sessions with flashbacks to break monotony, for instance, and sometimes by having visually appealing actors enact the therapist.

In Asit Sen’s Khamoshi (1969), the gorgeous Waheeda Rehman plays the dutiful nurse Radha, who inexplicably doubles up as a psychotherapist. Most Hindi films often do not bother to distinguish between psychologists and psychiatrists.

The doctors in Khamoshi demonstrate their ignorance of ethical boundaries by asking Radha to administer the highly scientific course of treatment of “hamdardi aur pyaar” to male patients suffering from mania after being hurt in love.

Radha is already burdened with requited love for her erstwhile patient Dev when she is asked to administer the same treatment to Arun (Rajesh Khanna). She cures Arun, but chafing against suppressed emotions and despair, Radha becomes a patient of mania herself.

Waheeda Rehman in ‘Khamoshi’.
Waheeda Rehman in ‘Khamoshi’.

The template makes a reappearance in Priyadarshan’s Kyon Ki (2005), when psychiatrist Tanvi (Kareena Kapoor) falls in love with her patient Anand (Salman Khan) at the asylum run by her father, Khurana. After Tanvi cures Anand, she hopes to make a future with him but her father is displeased with the alliance. Khurana resorts to a medical dictum that firmly belongs in the last century: If you can’t convince them, lobotomise them. Tanvi is understandably distraught by this development and is unable to retain her sanity.

Much like Khamoshi, Kyon Ki buys into the misconception that psychiatrists often wind up on the other side of the table, especially when they cross professional boundaries.

Not all psychotherapist-patient love stories are doomed to failure. In Shakti Samanta’s Pagla Kahin Ka (1970), Shalini gets attached to Sujit (Shammi Kapoor), a man who has been unlucky in love and is therefore resentful of women. She cures him with a curious blend of outdoor promenades and singing (the hauntingly melodious Tum Mujhe Yun Bula Naa Paooge). Although she initially struggles with doctor-patient boundaries, Shalini eventually succumbs to her attraction for Sujit.

In Yakub Hassan Rizvi’s Baharon Ki Manzil (1968) super-psychiatrist Rajesh (Dharmendra) confirms his amnesiac patient Radha’s mental acuity by checking her pulse and blood pressure. Rajesh then does some swift detective work to unearth Radha’s past and gets a happy-ever-after as his reward.

Essentially, a psychologist is a detective of sorts, who gently separates the layers of a patient’s past, attempting to determine how past events influence their thought patterns and behaviors. In Karthik Calling Karthik, the titular character’s psychologist, Kapadia, diagnoses him with schizophrenia after considerable sleuthing.

Psychologists like Kapadia, who adhere to professional rules even as they treat patients with compassion and empathy, are a rare breed in Hindi cinema.

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‘Bhool Bhulaiya’.

Bollywood mostly vacillates between portraying psychologists as staid and boring rule-abiders or rebellious but compassionate eccentrics. It is only the subversive psychologists who are any good. In Priyadarshan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007), the dapper Aditya (Akshay Kumar) uses outrageous techniques to diagnose and cure Avani, a patient of Dissociative Identity Disorder. In Dear Zindagi, formally attired and jargon-spouting psychologists are juxtaposed with the casually clad Jug and found wanting.

Unlike Jug and Aditya, most screen psychologists are incurably vapid themselves, with faces as starched as their suits. Their presence is barely felt at all. In Abhishek Varman’s 2 States (2014), an appropriately lugubrious Krish (Arjun Kapoor) settles down in front of a therapist as he begins to tell the tale of his heartbreak. These sessions have merely been inserted as a narrative device. The therapist barely even utters a word and Krish’s suicidal tendency is dismissed as hyperbole.

In Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal (2007), Jai’s (Saif Ali Khan) therapist is a thoroughly beige woman (in personality more than attire) who cannot offer him anything more than platitudes in an implacable accent. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is, like many depressed and/or insane heroes before him, a casualty of Bollywood’s most ubiquitous malady – love.

Rajkumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006), is one of the few films in which a mental condition is not the product of unrequited love or familial troubles. Munna (Sanjay Dutt) is terrified when he begins to see and converse with Mahatma Gandhi and seeks psychiatric help.

The uptight psychiatrist rationalises that Munna’s hallucinations are a product of stress, but Munna goes into full-fledged denial. The scene illustrates the knee-jerk reaction of a patient who has been told he suffers from a mental condition. Although he is undeniably logical, the doctor is so woefully tactless in his delivery that we cannot help but side with Circuit (Arshad Warsi) for his instinctively protective rejoinder.

‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’.
‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’.

A single scene in Shakun Batra’s Ekk Main Aur Ek Tu (2012) sums up the social assumptions around mental illness and psychotherapy. Riana (Kareena Kapoor) is upset after a bad break-up and tells her mother over the phone that is going to a therapist because she’s “feeling low” and wants to feel “normal” again. She seems particularly annoyed at the suggestion that she is probably suffering from premenstrual stress or just “being a drama queen”. Riana’s desire for a quick fix through therapy and her mother’s instinctive rebuttal are the most common manifestations of our ignorance about psychotherapy.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.