Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
Mainstream Bollywood is an arena filled with cliches, from romance to action to drama, drawn-out cliches have become a negative part of Bollywood. One such cliche is the stereotypical representations of masculine men that have filled the silver screen. Be it a Salman Khan beating up ‘gundas (goons)’ to save the cliched “damsel in distress” or a protagonist with the emotional spectrum of a paperweight, Bollywood has rarely drawn male characters who are suffering mentally and emotionally.
That doesn’t mean that there are no such characters in Bollywood, and if you feel like taking a break from the misogynistic stalking buff male hero trope, here are some movies that you should check out.
Chichhore starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, and Varun Sharma received major critical approval for its filmmaking, the social message, and the acting. The movie is based around Anirudh (played by Sushant Singh Rajput) and his son Raghav. Raghav, who is an IIT aspirant attempts suicide after a disappointing result but survives. The story then shifts between Anirudh recounting his college days and Raghav’s recovery.
The movie talks about an issue that affects many students, the parental and societal pressure of performing well, and how many parents don’t know what their child is going through. Sadly, this issue in the movie is far from fiction and is a reality for many in India. The other aspect that this film represented remarkably well was what the family of those who attempts suicide go through in the aftermath.
Tamasha is a love story between Tara (Deepika Padukone) and Ved (Ranbir Kapoor). The movie depicts Ved with borderline personality disorder and his struggle to find his true self. With a mix of unconventional methods of story-telling and restraint from over-exaggeration, the film aptly represents Ved’s struggles. It also shows how the daily actions of monotony in Ved’s life deeply affect him, instead of presenting a drawn-out one-dimensional portrayal of the character.
Starring Farhan Akhtar as Karthik, this 2010 thriller depicts schizophrenia surprisingly well at a time when the word was barely in the vocabulary of most Indians. It shows Karthik’s struggles and belittlement due to his introverted nature. The movie also shows Karthik as someone suffering, instead of an exaggerated “crazy” character that Bollywood often uses to represent those suffering from mental illness.
(Spoiler Warning) The movie features how Karthik gets calls from an unknown person at low points of his life, who boosts his self-esteem and gives him advice. We later find out that the unknown caller was Karthik himself.
The movie’s representation of schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies is very commendable, especially considering the landscape and attitude toward men’s mental health in 2010 (and let’s be honest, in 2021 too).
While this movie never explicitly explains the condition, this movie shows Shah Rukh Khan suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition in the autism spectrum which limits one’s ability to interact socially. Where this movie stands out is Shah Rukh Khan’s dedication and research towards the role. Another very beautiful part of this movie is that it doesn’t just focus on Aspergers limiting SRK, but also shows how it raises him and those around him.
This breaks away from the societal notion that classifies those on the spectrum as “broken” or “abnormal”, which is a breath of fresh air in Bollywood.
Guzaarish, starring Hrithik Roshan as Ethan, is a spark in the debate around Euthanasia and mercy killings in India. Ethan is a former magician who is quadriplegic and now runs Radio Zindagi. Radio Zindagi and Ethan spread laughter and joy to many, however, his listeners don’t know how Ethan is suffering and his wish to be euthanized. The movie centres around those who enter Ethan’s life, including a prodigy and a love interest, and his legal efforts to get euthanized.
The movie is a nuanced look at the idea of euthanasia, with love, forgiveness, and dying happy all major themes in the film. The ending of the film, which many will classify as happy, is completely different from how a lot of Bollywood movies deliver happy endings.