High and high – a short history of movies under the influence

Between Bollywood and world cinema, filmmakers have explored the lure of drugs and the narcotics trade.

The June 17 release of Abhishek Chaubey’s drug trade drama Udta Punjab is a reminder of the many occasions on which Hindi filmmakers have tackled the drug menace.

The 1970s saw several drug-themed movies such as Hari Dutt’s Naya Nasha (1973), Ramanand Sagar’s Jalte Badan (1973), Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1975), and Sagar’s Charas (1976). These are finger-wagging tales that warn of Western culture causing huge holes in the Indian moral fabric. Among these, Charas and Hare Rama Hare Krishna were major blockbusters, with Charas spicing up the war against drugs through glamourous leads (Dharmendra and Hema Malini), exotic locations (Malta) and hit songs.


If the ’80s saw the well-made Jalwa (1987) by Pankuj Parashar, the ’90s saw sporadic movies dealing with the subject, but only one of them is noteworthy: Mahesh Bhatt’s Bangkok Hilton rip-off Gumrah (1993), starring Sridevi, Sanjay Dutt and Anupam Kher. The new millennium saw Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Charas (2004), while Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maaro Dum (2011) once again stereotyped Goa as a drug haven.

World cinema too has tackled the themes of addiction and distribution. Quitting (2001), directed by Zhang Yang, is based on the drug-fuelled life of popular Chinese actor Jia Hongsheng, who plays himself. Though he appears to have recovered and was trying to make his way back into the movies, Jia Hongsheng committed suicide in 2010.


Matthew Vaugh’s Layer Cake (2004) delves deep inside the world of a drug dealer, played by Daniel Craig. Although the movie romanticises the drug trade, it doesn’t camouflage the paranoia of Craig’s character. This theme was previously explored by Nicolas Winding Refn in Pusher (1996), starring Mads Mikkelsen and Kim Bodnia (remember him from Delhi Belly?) and exploring the travails of a drug dealer involved in a botched consignment.


Derek Yee’s Protege (2007) is an underrated gem from Hong Kong that stars Daniel Wu and Andy Lau. Wu plays an undercover officer who works for drug baron Andy Lau and becomes increasingly drawn into his boss’s world. Chosen as a potential leader of the business, Wu gets involved with an addict and her daughter. Protege takes its cue from Donnie Brasco (1997) and Infernal Affairs (2002).

A spectacular follow-up to Protege is Johnnie To’s Drug War (2012). Relying on an incarcerated drug lord’s tip-off, a crusading police officer fights hard to end a drug ring.


The Mexican narcotics industry is the focus of Heli (2013). Amat Escalante’s movie, about 17-year-old Heli who gets dragged along with his family into a drug deal, won the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. Heli spotlights the woes of the common people of Mexico who are caught between drug barons and security forces, which is also the theme of Traffic (2000) and Sicario (2015).


Drug movies usually depict the inter-linked orbits of drug dealers, law enforcement officials and drug addicts. In William Friedkin’s still-revered The French Connection (1971), these worlds collide as a policeman (Gene Hackman) confronts his nemesis, a drug dealer (Fernando Rey). Bullets fly and aesthetically brilliant car chases unfold until the cataclysmic finale, which is still one of the best in the category.

‘The French Connection’.
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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.


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.