Wednesday, October 16, 2019
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Posted at: Apr 23, 2019, 8:24 AM; last updated: Apr 23, 2019, 9:12 AM (IST)

Mind games

The title of upcoming film Mental Hai Kya has generated quite a storm. While the medical fraternity calls it demeaning, Kangana supporters usher it as one that will break stereotypes


Insensitive or over-sensitive, as the hashtag #MentalHaiKya trended on Twitter, the war of words broke out among two camps. Doctors and psychiatrists, along with Deepika Padukone’s The Live Love Laugh Foundation considered the title demeaning, while Kangana Ranaut’s camp claimed the film to be a game-changer, which aims at a society that celebrates the differences.

Kangana Ranaut-Rajkummar Rao-starrer is a psychological thriller due for release on June 21. The Indian Medical Association and Indian Psychiatric Society have registered their protest with the censor board, claiming the title of the film ‘loudly ridicules persons with mental illness, which is not only unethical and inhuman but also illegal’. Playing safe, producers of the film, Balaji Motion Pictures, issued a statement refuting the allegations and calling their film ‘a mainstream entertainer that encourages people to embrace their individuality and distinctiveness’.

What’s the fuss?

Mental, psycho, pagal, sanki, weirdo... are some terms used indiscriminately and movie enthusiasts see no reason why a film with such a title should be questioned. Kangana’s sister Rangoli took to Twitter, “The topic and subject she (Kangana) has chosen will trigger relevant talk and discussions around the stigma.” 

Sensitive issue

Psychiatrists, however, disagree. “When you label someone ‘mental’ it eclipses rest of his individuality,” says Dr Parmod Kumar, general secretary, Indian Association of Private Psychiatry. “It’s only the patient, the family or the psychiatrist who knows what he or she is going through.”  

While he is all for films spreading awareness about mental health issues, why be so crude and crass with the titles? “While movies addressing psychological disorders are welcome for they sensitise the society at large; Dear Zindagi, Taare Zameen Par, Black did a wonderful job, their titles needn’t be demeaning,” he concludes.

Draw the line

“What is wrong with the word Mental,” questions writer and filmmaker Piyush Jha. “People with psychiatric disorders are known as people with mental health problems. If a word like ‘retard’ or pagal was used, one could say that the film-makers were being derogatory. While I’m all for sensitivity, I think that sometimes we take things too far and become over-sensitive. We should know when to draw the line,” he adds.

Big screen

While the story of Mental Hai Kya remains to be revealed, there have been many films in Bollywood and Hollywood that portrayed the plight of those bearing psychological illnesses rather sensitively. Rajesh Khanna Waheeda Rehman-starrer Khamoshi was one during the 70s, while recently it was Margarita With A Straw that has Kalki Koechlin playing a girl with cerebral palsy. Dear Zindagi, Taare Zameen Par, Black, Barfi!, My Name Is Khan were received well critically as well as commercially. A Beautiful Mind, Silver Linings Playbook, Black Swan, Girl and Interrupted are some counterparts from Hollywood; not that you can make out the theme from their titles!

Stigma attached

“Using the word mental in a film with a tagline ‘sanity is overrated’ is in such a bad taste. Mental itself refers to someone suffering with mental illness, which is a huge stigma in our society. I come across so many patients who should have enlisted psychiatrist help much earlier, but couldn’t because of the stigma attached to it; a film with such a title only reemphasises and reinforces it. When people still feel uncomfortable to seek medical advice and end up in suicides, as a society we must help destigmatize the issue not promote it. Justifying the title on basis of content isn’t justifiable either. How many are actually going to watch the movie, but its posters would reach to many more and imagine the trauma a person or his/her family would go through as people talk/joke about it all.  — Dr Sachin Kaushik 


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