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.

Play
‘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.

Play
‘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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
__('Sponsored Content') BY 

London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

Play

For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.