The year was 1971. The movie was the legendary and tear-inducing story of ‘Anand’ by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, played to perfection by none other than the then superstar Rajesh Khanna. Anand was shown to be suffering from a rare form of cancer, known as Lymphoma of the intestine, which was incurable. Till the end of the movie, which was no doubt a cinematic brilliance, the only time we realise this, apart from the times when it was mentioned specifically, is when we see Khanna’s character die.
Cut to 2003. ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’, where we see the character of Shah Rukh Khan, fixing the life of a broken Naina aka Preity Zinta. Aman is terminally-ill, who can only be cured by a heart transplant, but somehow he has passed on beyond that and death is the only end for him. Throughout the movie, he dances buoyantly, to the pumping tunes, ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘Maahi Ve’, pun intended. Again, we loved the movie and cried like babies in the climax when Aman dies, but once over the emotions, we can’t deny the fact that there was not much difference in the forty years that had passed since the last time we cried over this concept in ‘Anand’.
Just like Anand, we do not come to know of Aman’s condition which is concealed carefully under the garb of living your last moments to the full, and the only time we actually feel the fact that these guys are suffering is either when it is mentioned, or when in some moments they are shown to pant, are out of breath, and the time when they are finally on their death bed.
Let us just clarify that we have nothing against the movies. We have always been a die-hard fan, always in awe of the brilliance of emotions captured in the aforesaid two cinematic exemplars. But the way diseases were handled, it made us raise our eyebrows just a tad.
Cut to 2016, and we have ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ which too had the concept of cancer, wherein the character of Alizeh was seen suffering from the same towards the end. Though we would applaud that probably the first time in commercial cinema, a through and through candy floss director like Karan Johar took the dare of showing the effects of chemo by showing a bald heroine. However, this was also a feeble start, as cancer doesn’t just take your hair, it breaks you physically too, even though the spirit and light in your eyes is alive. A terminally ill patient, probably in the last stage of this unfortunate disease doesn’t have plump cheeks, with a nude makeup that is on-point.
Another one which we quite could not digest, or overlooked due to the emotional quotient of the plot, was Aamir Khan’s portrayal of a man suffering from Anterograde Amnesia in blockbuster ‘Ghajini’. We remember him more as an enraged lover who had memory problems due to being bashed up while trying to save his fiancée, but the truth is we rarely looked into the disease that he was actually supposed to play.
However, it’s not like there have always been medical fact goof-ups. There have been actors who have played their disorders like a pro, so much so that for the duration of the movie you were so much in awe of the characters, that you forgot the stars playing those. Remember Rizwan Khan from ‘My Name Is Khan’, where Shah Rukh Khan nailed the character suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. Everything, from his body language to expression to dialogue delivery was impeccable, and never did he slip, not even in a second of the movie.
Another fine example can be of Priyanka Chopra’s autistic character Jhilmil in ‘Barfi’, where she made us all cry with her beautiful acting skills. There was not a single dry eye in the theatres where the movie was screened, such was the conviction of portrayal. Amitabh Bachchan, the megastar, was unimpeachable when he played the role of a 12-year-old suffering from Progeria, in ‘Paa’.
Kalki as a girl suffering from cerebral palsy in ‘Margharita With a Straw’ too can be taken as an example of exemplary performance. Even the concept of Dyslexia was handled beautifully with ‘Taare Zameen Par’, and the then little Darsheel Zafari gave a performance which even seasoned senior actors could not have pulled off with such panache.
Bollywood still has to go a long way as far as portrayal of diseases in mainstream cinema is concerned, for looking good is a parameter which has to be ignored here, and we all know how good looks matter in our good looking movies. But we have the most talented actors, and we are pretty sure every once in a while we will be treated to such amazing performances, albeit sometimes with a pinch of unreal.