Dear Zindagi: ‘Normal’ people have problems too
Gauri Shinde has a very specific talent. She lifts relatable, quotidian elements from real life and recreates them in her films with a subtlety hitherto largely missing in mainstream Bollywood. Her stories mirror life with all its messiness without emphasising or excusing any part of it.
In focusing her latest film on the mind and its challenges, Shinde has lifted the same clear mirror and it shows us this: psychological illnesses are not an aberration. They are not a rarity. And they are not far from any of us.
What we’re most grateful to this film for is the way it portrays its protagonist. She hasn’t been straightened out or sweetened up for the big screen. She’s so full of flaws it’s almost annoying, but she’s still familiar to us all. She’s not your typical heroine. You don’t really root for her. She blows up at her boyfriend for no reason and lets her insecurities get the better of her. She’s impulsive, indecisive and sometimes a little mean. She may be a pain, but to the Indian audience, she’s still normal. Why would she need a DD (dimaag ka doctor)? She’s not suffering from schizophrenia or experiencing suicidal thoughts or a victim of severe head trauma, all the mainstays of mental illness in Bollywood. So why therapy?
When Kaira, played by Alia Bhatt, first meets Jehangir Khan or Jag, she’s going through a rough patch. She’s been thrown out of her flat in Mumbai because the society doesn’t think it’s right for a girl to be living on her own. She’s moved back in with her parents in Goa, and it’s not the happiest home. She’s been blowing through a series of relationships, not able to hold one down or even sure if she wants to. She shields herself from intimacy, at a very real cost both to herself and others. So when she hears Jag speaking at a conference on Mental Health, she thinks, why not?
The first question she asks is one that’s on everyone’s minds: “How does this work?”. To be fair, the methods Khan goes on to use are not quite typical of your average therapist. But he does help her, through conversation and comfort, to slowly open up. She delves deeper into her own thoughts and digs up painful childhood memories that have shaped the person she is today.
Finally, like in all Bollywood movies, she falls in love with her suave therapist, because there has to be a romantic angle. This makes for another beautiful moment, as Jag hears her out, commends her on the emotional progress she’s made and then gently reminds her of the professional relationship that exists between them. It’s another unheard of scene for Bollywood, that of love not being realised, and especially for the sake of professional ethics.
There are still a few flaws, from a therapist’s perspective. All her issues are neatly bundled up and given a single cause, which when unearthed is immediately dealt with. Khan’s counselling techniques are a little left of the norm. But the positive impact this film will have is immense.
None of Shinde’s characters are explicitly or stereotypically good or evil. They’re all just people. The situations are all beautifully elaborated without making any one specific point. Homosexuality, slut-shaming, moral absolutism and family ideals drift in and out of the plotline just like they would in real life. As a result, the viewer is still the final judge.
If even 10% of the viewing population take something away from this film, it’s a huge boost to the mental wellness of our country where even though 150m people suffer from mental illness, less than one in five actually seek help. We might finally learn that you don’t have to wait until you’re on the verge of a ‘breakdown’ to seek help. Therapy is nothing more than structured conversations with someone with education and experience in psychological health and wellness. By not labelling Kaira’s issues, Shinde underlines that you don’t need a reason to see a therapist, you can do it just because you want to. We need to learn that it’s okay to ask for help and that it’s always good to talk.
If you have something you’d like to talk about, do reach out to an InnerHour therapist who will be able to help you.
i loved this article!! The movie was very nice. All of use dont hv mental illness. but having somrne to listen to us is imp. dint know anyone can go for counselling.