FOCUS ON BOLLYWOOD

There’s a Bollywood script in the friendship between Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan

Karan and Arjun reunite to defeat their mutual rival (read Aamir Khan).

The highly public alliance between Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan is more just about than two middle-aged men finding their respective inner Buddha. Every time Khan and Khan embrace on camera, as they most recently did for Bigg Boss, they not only boost television ratings but also send out an important message to that part of the world that watches their films (the other does not matter). Whatever their individual frailties, faultlines and troubled personal histories, together the superstars are a bit like comic book superheroes – formidable and almost invincible as one. In their attractive camaraderie, the two Khans play out a perfect Bollywood script with its highs, lows and explosive silences in between.

No matter how many times they hug it off, some followers and journalists still remember the day in 2008, when they had a bitter spat at a private party at Mumbai’s Olive restaurant. Insults traded over mysterious causes animated tabloids for several days. In 2013, local politician Baba Siddiqui gained enormous media mileage by bringing the two Khans together at an iftar.

The bitter aftertaste of Olive now seems to be a thing of the past. Both stars headlined the Rakesh Roshan blockbuster Karan Arjun in 1995, and they have since relived the moment in numerous television shows.

Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan recreate Karan Arjun for Bigg Boss in 2015. Courtesy Colors.
Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan recreate Karan Arjun for Bigg Boss in 2015. Courtesy Colors.

The two Khans could not be more different. One is to the manor born, the other is a hardworking outsider. If one is adept at courting serious controversies – and, for a while, seemed to have had blood on his hands – the other is destiny’s favourite child. If the happily single Salman Khan is shielded by his clan, Shah Rukh Khan is the benevolent patriarch who goes to great lengths to protect his wife and three children from gossip. Salman is not known for his felicity with words, while Shah Rukh possesses quicksilver wit and uncommon erudition.

While Salman Khan is enjoying the best phase of his career and has emerged as an unstoppable box office force, Shah Rukh Khan is trying to fine-tune his new avatar after recent setbacks. The stratospheric success of his recent films seems to have taken the edge off Salman and made him something of a gentle giant. The mixed responses to his recent marquee outings appear to have made Shah Rukh more introspective and vulnerable.

If Salman’s latest celluloid avatars have turned him into what Superman was to disillusioned Americans in the 1930s, Shah Rukh is the deeply conflicted, self-doubting Spider-man for the millennials. Is there anything not to like about their bonhomie then – one bro complementing the other?

United we stand

There is another aspect to the camaraderie, a strategy perhaps to counter critics and troublemakers who work the more sinister communal lines.

Both Salman and Shah Rukh have been the poster boys of diversity and tolerance. Salman holds an annual Ganesh Puja and has members of different faiths in his extended family. Shah Rukh has a Hindu wife and has frequently aired his views on multiculturalism and secularism. But Salman has also been careful to follow a script that steers clear from baiting religious fanatics while kowtowing to those who matter. Shah Rukh has been less careful and more candid, sometimes at a great personal cost.

Shah Rukh earned the wrath of right-wing trolls over his comments after no Pakistani players were selected for the Indian Premiere League team in 2010 (Khan argued that his team Kolkata Knight Riders, like other teams, should have been given the freedom to pick players from the neighbouring country.) Khan’s January 25 release Raees, which stars Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, has also endured protests by fringe groups. It makes sense for Shah Rukh Khan to have an influential ally in order to ensure a smooth release for Raees.

Salman, on the other hand, has gotten away more easily, even after making insensitive comments on rape while promoting the 2016 wrestling drama Sultan. After a well-timed photo-op in Gujarat with Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha election campaign in 2014, Salman has been piling up the right kind of endorsements, from being a goodwill ambassador for the Rio Olympics to supporting the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s campaign on open defecation. Salman seems to have a very important message for his peers, especially Aamir Khan, who survived a horrendous backlash to his remarks on intolerance in 2015 – keep calm and fly kites in Gujarat.

Fans have always been divided between the two Khans. It is time they came together to celebrate the yin and yang of Bollywood as one. If there is any way to counter the Aamir Khan juggernaut, it is by invoking the Karan-Arjun avatar of yore.

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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.