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Bored Of The Buff Bollywood Hero? Check These 5 Movies On Mental Health Struggles Of Men

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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!

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Were you told to hide or control your emotions while growing up?

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.

Chhichhore

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

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.

Karthik Calling Karthik 

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).

My Name Is Khan 

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

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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