Arts & Culture

Is Bollywood able to bring the differently-abled an equal voice?

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Bollywood is a culture for most of the people in this country and this culture is on more occasions than one, problematic. It doesn’t to be stressed how stereotypes on colour, states and even disabilities have existed in B-town’s ‘family-oriented’ films.

From Tusshar Kapoor’s speech disability in the Golmaal franchise to mocking portrayals of disabilities in Sajid Khan films, differently-abled people have been used as laughing stock in Bollywood flicks.

One might argue that these are just ‘no brainer’ entertainers for the masses and hence, shouldn’t be taken seriously. However, this very argument is why we should be concerned with such portrayals. If the masses are just taught to sympathise or chuckle at the plight of the disabled, then the struggle for equality is really taking a step back.

Dr Atanu Mohipatra remarks, “Portrayal of disability in films swings primarily between two extremes –pity, fun, caricaturing, sympathy, and awesome heroism are at one end of the spectrum while discrimination, coping-up, emotional swings and aspirations of the human soul are at the other end.”

Still, with a new wave of cinema all over the country, the picture is slightly getting better. Filmmakers are focusing on representing more physical and mental disorders and disabilities. Dyslexia has become a term that more and more Indian people know now because of Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par.

Barfi has a deaf protagonist. Shah Rukh portrays a man with Asperger’s in Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan (a director with otherwise quite a share of problematic content). Black has its Helen Keller-Anne Sullivan types relationship between Rani Mukherji and Amitabh Bacchan. While the arthouse scene in India already has had sensitive and well-researched content on disabilities (Margharita with a Straw being a recent example), the movies mentioned before should be considered too as they are made to appeal to the mainstream.

Again, the perspective of a differently-abled person from a non-disabled person might differ on matters. The critically acclaimed film Haider has the lead character avenge the death of his father by killing his uncle. At the end, when his uncle is caught in an explosion and loses his legs, Haider doesn’t kill him. He just leaves him to drag his own body and it’s assumed that the uncle suffers a torturous death.

Here again, matters get complex as there are high chances that writer Vishal Bhardwaj meant no offence to amputees and wanted to put this end as a part where the antagonist gets what he deserves. But then, an acquaintance of mine on further viewing found this to be a little insensitive as if the scene tells us that losing one’s legs is worse than death. There is no coherent solution but such questions to analyse films do show that attitudes can change.

As Riddhi Satti, a member of Glass Eye, the film society of Gargi College concludes it well, ‘The rise of representation of disabilities in movies is nice but then it depends on the content. It should be sensitive and should not romanticise disabilities at the same time and should basically cover how it’s important it is for us to normalise disabilities…’.


Featured Image Credits- IMDB

Shaurya Singh Thapa

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