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What Meghna Gulzar learnt from her father Gulzar

The most common question Meghna Gulzar has to field is, ‘What’s it like being the daughter of such famous parents?’ It’s also a subject she is tackling in her new release Talvar, where the tragedy of a daughter’s loss puts the parents in the hot seat. Roles are reversed.

It couldn’t have been easy for Meghna Gulzar to live in the shadow of her celebrity parents. She hopes to change that with Talvar, which has been receiving enthusiastic reviews since it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month. Variety called it a ‘well-crafted whodunit and praised Talvar for its Rashomon-style execution of multiple-viewpoint dramaturgy. (Read the Scroll.in review.)

Meghna could finally be coming into her own. But the journey has been long and arduous. She was barely in her twenties when she began assisting her father on the tele-serial Kirdaar. She made two documentaries for Doordarshan on domestic workers and private security agencies, but her work with her father gave her exposure to ‘film material’.

Meghna had her first brush with actual film-making in an episode based on a short story by Urdu writer Rajinder Singh Bedi, titled Rehman Ke Joote. She is credited in one other episode.

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Meghna then assisted Gulzar on his films Maachis (1996) and Hu Tu Tu (1999), working on the scripts. Picking the thread of the story’s importance in a script, she broke out to write and direct her own film, Filhaal (2002). The film explored the subject of surrogacy and was considered ahead of its time.

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Meghna waited another five years to make a film on a lighter subject. But Just Married (2007) didn’t give her the breather she was hoping for. The same year she also directed a short film as part of the Dus Kahaniyaan anthology, but the well-intentioned short was lost in the hype. However, it helped her form a team with director and music composer Vishal Bhardwaj, who has been a long-time collaborator of Gulzar's.

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Meghna remembers the time: ‘Vishal ji was like a great support on this because this subject and the genre are completely unknown to me. He is an accomplished writer. When he watched Dus Kahaniyaan, he was so impressed that he expressed his wish to produce my film and that did happen after 8 years.’

The result of that long wait is Talvar. Meanwhile, she wrote a book on her father, Because He Is…

Speaking of her father’s influence on her work, Meghna wants the message to be loud and clear: she is different from him, although she does value his brevity. ‘Trying to keep it simple and brief is something I learnt from my father.’

The only time Meghna Gulzar could have got away from her famous parents, or, in particular, far from her father’s looming presence, is when, at 15, actor Kamal Hassan asked him for permission to cast Meghna as his heroine. She could have become famous sooner, but perhaps she would never have made Talvar in that case.

Photograph: IANS

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.