By Abha Khetarpal:
Being a person with disability, and working as counselor for persons with disabilities and disability rights advocate I have always raised my voice against discrimination and stereotyping of disabled people.
Disability metaphors and analogies abound in our culture but disappointingly, Bollywood continues to shut out persons with disability with blatant ableist dialogues and storylines, which objectify disabled bodies. Recently I heard a dialogue in the movie “Sultan”, where Salman Khan, with a characteristic bhai-like style says, “Shah Rukh Khan ke mazak mat udao. Manne bahut pasand hai” (Don’t make fun of Shah Rukh Khan. I really like him) and then adds, “Jab woh ladki ke aankh mein aankh daal ke dekhe na, toh andhi ladki bhi pat jawe” (When Shah Rukh looks straight into the eyes of a girl, even a blind girl cannot resist his charm).
This seemed to me not only offensive but also humiliating, and I strongly condemn the reference to disability in this dialogue, which I feel, was scripted only with the intention of generating a few laughs. I completely fail to understand what is so funny about it.
Housefull 3 also targets disabled people in a bizarre and offensive way. The portrayal of three non-disabled men, who pretended to be blind, deaf and a wheelchair user, as a ruse to get married to three rich girls pushes forth the idea that disabled are anomalous and they must either be pitied or laughed at. However, what was most upsetting was Jackie Shroff’s portrayal of a father concerned about his daughters dating men with disabilities, and his constant refrain about how he wants them to marry only ‘normal boys’. At one point Sandy (Akshay Kumar), pretending to be wheelchair user, dives at Bakul’s (aka Jackie Shroff’s feet, saying: ‘Wheel payna papaji’ (touching feet with wheels not with hands). At one point Sandy (Akshay Kumar), pretending to be wheelchair user, dives at Bakul’s (aka Jackie Shroff’s feet, saying: “Wheel payna papaji” (touching feet with wheels not with hands). And at another point he says, “Sab kuchh chal raha hai sirf main hi nahi chal raha hun (everything is moving except me)”.
Don’t you think that this is disability harassment where an undue attention is drawn towards a disability just to create a situation for laughter? To me making fun of someone on the basis of his or her disability, for instance, is nothing less than harassment. And the greater problem here is that harassers neither even know nor feel guilty that they are making disabled persons uncomfortable. When asked about criticism of this movie by some newspapers, the directors unashamedly said, “If the janta (public) is happy, then that is the ultimate high”.
Whether it was in Golmaal (Tusshar Kapoor with his speech disability and Paresh Rawal and his wife as a blind couple), Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (Kader Khan as a person with a different disability, every day), Judaai (Upasna Singh with speech disorder), the present day Housefull 3, and now this disgusting dialogue (in Sultan), human limitations have consistently been exploited, to create a comic effect. Most analogies to disability are often limited, careless, and overly fixed, and the large-scale reach of such films only further perpetuates prejudice and ignorance.
Let me be very clear. We can’t afford to laugh at certain things. Period. And the practice of using people’s disabilities for comic relief is nothing less than perpetuating ableism. Like many other ‘isms’, racism, sexism, et al, ableism is too, a belief system or a set of practices which considers persons with disabilities worthless, limiting their potential completely. Using disability straight away in comparing disabled bodies with non-disabled ones by ridiculing the former, like in the dialogue from Sultan, puts an ableist tag on the whole context. This interpretation of differences as defects is the true root of ableist acts that cause far too many to feel marginalised, discriminated and devalued.
Though disability as a comedic trope dates back to the slapstick days of the silent film era in Bollywood, it has remained a staple ever since. Let me remind you of the fact that disability is NOT a cute fun analogy. It is a part of many people’s lives and identities. No one should ever dare to use the term with an agenda to charmingly appropriate it for whatever other purpose pops into one’s head.
When people use ‘disability’ in this manner, it explains a good deal about how that person thinks of disability and the unthinking contempt with which they regard disabled people. Honestly speaking, quite often movies in Bollywood are seen to exhibit a fundamental lack of understanding as to what disability actually is. In a bizarre way, such usage delegitimises disabled identity. It’s also about some people taking undue advantage of the experiences of other people’s lives and using them for easy, unaware reference. My final submission is that making fun of disabilities, joking about deformities and imitating someone’s limitations can be easily termed as ‘Being Inhuman’.
Featured and banner image source: Google