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Exploring the Arch of Representation of Mental Health in Bollywood

Bollywood, the Hindi-Indian film industry, has long been a powerful medium of storytelling and entertainment. Over the years, it has played a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of the nation. Mental health, once a taboo subject, has gradually gained recognition and understanding in society. We’ll try to delve into the arch of representation of mental health in Bollywood, tracing its evolution from stereotypes and sensationalism to more nuanced and empathetic portrayals, ultimately shedding light on the industry’s influence in promoting mental health awareness.

On the positive side, the industry has made significant strides in destigmatizing mental health issues through nuanced portrayals and relatable characters. It has sparked important conversations, raised awareness, and promoted empathy and understanding among audiences.
However, there have also been negative aspects to Bollywood’s representation of mental health. In the past, mental illnesses were often sensationalised or depicted as mere plot devices, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. These portrayals could reinforce misconceptions and further stigmatise those with mental health challenges.


In its early years, Bollywood largely stigmatised mental health issues. Characters with mental health conditions were often depicted as villains or eccentric individuals, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Films like “Deewar” (1975) showcased characters with psychotic disorders as antagonists, reinforcing the notion that mental illnesses equated to villainy. Such sensationalised portrayals not only distorted public perception but also hindered conversations around mental health, adding to the stigma and ignorance prevalent in society.


In certain films, mental health conditions are exaggerated for dramatic effect, contributing to sensationalism and misrepresentation. Characters with mental illnesses may be depicted as violent, unpredictable, or completely detached from reality, reinforcing harmful stereotypes and misconceptions. “Kyon Ki” (2005)  showcases a character with schizophrenia played by Salman Khan. The portrayal leans towards sensationalism, presenting the individual as violent and dangerous, perpetuating the stereotype that those with mental illnesses are a threat to others.


Mental health issues have also been trivialised for comedic purposes in some Bollywood films. Characters with conditions such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder are often portrayed as quirky or eccentric, reducing the severity of their struggles and undermining the impact of these conditions on individuals’ lives. “Humshakals” (2014) features characters pretending to have mental illnesses, using them as a source of humour. The depiction trivialises mental health. It keeps bringing back the line “Hum pagal nahi hai, humara dimaag kharab hai.” this further derails the efforts to see people suffering from mental illness as normal.


As societal awareness grew, Bollywood began exploring mental health issues more compassionately. The film “Taare Zameen Par” (2007) directed by Aamir Khan, initiated a paradigm shift. It highlighted the challenges faced by a child with dyslexia, emphasising the importance of early identification and support. The film succeeded in humanising mental health conditions and promoting empathy and understanding. This path of humanization continued with films like “Black” (2005), where a visually and hearing-impaired girl is portrayed with depth and sensitivity. These movies focused on the personal struggles of individuals and celebrated their resilience, leading to increased empathy among audiences.


“My Name Is Khan” (2010) stands on a pedestal for accurate depiction of mental health representation in Bollywood. The film sensitively portrays the character of Rizwan Khan, who has Asperger’s syndrome, highlighting his unique perspective and showcasing his strengths. It emphasizes his capacity for love, compassion, and determination, challenging stereotypes associated with neurodivergent individuals. By humanizing the character and celebrating his resilience, the film contributes to a more inclusive and empathetic understanding of mental health conditions.


Recent Bollywood films have gone beyond just portraying mental health issues; they have actively taken up the role of advocacy. Films like “Dear Zindagi” (2016) tackled complex themes such as depression and abandonment issues and dismantled the depiction of psychologists as an evil figure, but gave somewhat of a realistic perspective. Such movies aimed to deconstruct stereotypes and encourage open discussions surrounding mental health.

Moreover, actors and celebrities such as Deepika Padukon, Ileana D’Cruz amongst others  have taken up the mantle of promoting mental health awareness. They have shared their personal experiences, shedding light on their own battles and challenging societal norms. The efforts of influential figures, coupled with the power of cinema, have fostered a more accepting and inclusive narrative around mental health.


The arch of representation of mental health in Bollywood has come a long way. From stigmatisation and sensationalism to humanization and advocacy, the industry has played a pivotal role in shaping public perceptions. While we are no where near perfect, the foundation bricks have been laid down; as the industry continues to evolve, it holds the potential to make a significant impact in further dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health in Indian society.


Yogita Saraf

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