Opening this week

‘Wonder’ film review: Keep the hankies handy for this moving fairy tale

Jacob Tremblay leads a superb cast in Stephen Chbosky’s movie about a boy with facial deformities.

Can you complain about a movie about a boy with severe facial deformities who overcomes numerous obstacles to emerge as the school favourite?

Begone, all ye curmudgeons.

Stephen Chbosky’s three-hankie Wonder, based on RJ Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, is set in a largely tolerant and multi-racial corner of New York City. Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) has been hidden from the world because of his face, which retains the ability to attract stares and revulsion despite numerous surgeries. After being home-schooled for years, Auggie’s parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) take the brave step of enrolling him in the fifth grade, and stand by anxiously while their son navigates bullying, rejection and isolation.

Auggie’s journey is intercut with the experiences of his sister Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), who has long learnt that her brother is the centre of her parents’ world, and mother Isabel (Roberts), who has sacrificed her career to bring up Auggie. As Auggie finds his feet at school, Olivia seems to lose her bearings, and her journey towards self-realisation emerges as an equally powerful track.

Auggie’s chronicle pushes through the need for kindness, empathy and tolerance without preachiness, even though the deep and often open wounds that result from bringing up as social misfit stay largely out of sight. Another movie that wasn’t so insistent on being a modern-day fairy tale would have been tougher about the struggle faced by children such as Auggie. His heart-breaking question to his mother, of whether it will ever get any better, isn’t as easily answered as it is in Wonder.

Instead, Chbosky swaddles the film in warmth and unending optimism. He extracts pitch-perfect performances from the cast and dispenses with lachrymose sentiments. Although Auggie’s problems are solved a bit too smoothly, the movie works hard to create a convincing world of loving parents, curious and occasionally cruel school children, and a school system that nurtures Auggie’s talents. Chbosky doesn’t expend any effort on manipulating the tear ducts. They tremble of their own accord, especially when Auggie slowly makes friends, overcomes his inhibitions, and twists his misshapen features into a triumphant grin. The result is moving rather than manipulative.

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Wonder (2017).
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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.