I have been coming across a lot of fresh reviews and critical takes on the Malayalam movie Trance which came out in February, especially after it was released on Amazon Prime this week. The film has been lauded for the technical brilliance involving sound design, cinematography, background music, etc. as well as the unusual approach to the themes it has tried to take on.
The film mainly draws a vivid image of the empire of televangelism and shows how it has immense potential to put you in a state of trance, just like how religion and drugs can and have been doing for ages. Anyone who has watched the movie will also know that Fahadh Faasil steals the show with his excellent acting and screen presence.
There have also been critics talking about how the script is a half-baked attempt at addressing the evils portrayed in the film, how the story and characters are badly written, and how the second half of the movie practically ruined whatever treat the first half promised to deliver to the audiences. But what has been missing from all the mainstream discussion and critiques, is one of the most important elements present throughout the movie—mental health.
Here, I won’t be going into detail about how the story of the decline in the mental health of various characters is told or describe the circumstances under which they were made to suffer. Even though it is a commendable feat that the filmmakers have tried to bring such a rarely discussed topic in the industry to the viewers through this film, there is a glaring fault in the narrative that can be a very dangerous source of misinformation: the flawed depiction of mental health medication.
At a crucial point in the movie, a character is seen looking up details about some of the medication that the protagonist is taking then. The voice-over accompanying the scene goes:
“Psychotropic drugs are more dangerous than we think. These are known to cause personality changes and mood swings. Continuous usage of Zyprexa, Xanax, Risperdal, etc. can cause brain damage, hallucinations, loss of memory and can even aggravate anxiety issues, thereby killing the person inch by inch.”
To clarify, psychotropic medications are a class of drugs that include anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-epileptic medications. I would not count myself as an expert, but it is very obvious that psychotropic medications being referred to as “killers” in the movie is a very problematic way of describing a category of drugs that have been used for treating symptoms of mental disorders, reducing disability and even preventing relapses.
Even though I am all for communicating how drug abuse can lead to severe problems, the language used to convey the same here can be fundamentally misleading, especially when there is a lot of taboo around talking about mental health and seeking professional help, let alone taking medication.
As someone who knows a lot of people who have abstained from going to a therapist just because they did not want to be dependent on medicines or wouldn’t want to be known as taking drugs, I can only imagine the kind of impact that would be made by a false notion that drugs are inherently bad for our body, even if taken as medication. This would especially be fatal for people who are undergoing treatment. They might start becoming sceptical and even refuse to continue taking these drugs. Considering how the drugs specifically mentioned in the movie have been used to treat anxiety, panic disorders (Xanax), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (Zyprexa and Risperidone), etc., such misinformation can have grave consequences (including suicides) for patients and make things even more difficult for mental health professionals.
Mainstream cinema is, to a great extent, one of the most powerful forms of media that influences a huge portion of the general audience. The filmmakers should have kept this in mind and been more careful before introducing unverified statements without any scientific backing into a movie that was always predicted to garner huge popularity. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed most of the movie, this particular portion was extremely disheartening and disconcerting, given the bold efforts that the movie took to tackle other relevant social issues.
I hope that in the future, the industry takes a more cautious attitude while dealing with such sensitive issues.