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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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

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