Dear Cinema People : Stop Mocking The Disability !

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Who can forget the famous scene from the movie ‘Kaalia’ where Amitabh Bacchan beats a bad guy to a pulp in the jail when he pushes a handicapped person. The hero takes revenge for the guy with clutches, says the famous line ‘Ham jahan se khade hote hain, line wahin se shuru hoti hai’ or ‘the queue starts from wherever I stand’! the villain learns the lesson, the hero gets the food for the handicapped guy  and the audience claps! Another feather added into the greatness of Indian Hero!

My last article on ‘Disability Advocacy Clichés, caused a few ripples, raised some eyebrows and got me some rave reviews and because there was so much that I couldn’t cover in that one post, I am writing this part, to explore some more perspectives, some more opinions and some more disability clichés.

While there are endless clichés when it comes to the way we portray disability, the one thing that has influenced our attitudes the most in this context is the world of cinema. The cinema influences the society or the society influences the cinema is a topic for another day but we can’t deny the fact that cinema does affect our outlook, especially when it is about the things we are not familiar with.

Take disability for example, in  cinema till about 1960-70 disability was used for pity or even comedy, making it something out of ordinary ( but not in a good sense).  Things changed a little in next decades where films were made based on people with special needs but one could see the reflection of societal attitudes. In movies like ‘the elephant man’ or ‘ whose life is it anyway’ where the protagonists were shown to be better off dead than live the life of a crippled or a disfigured man. It did tell us the general idea and the perceived value of people with disabilities in the real world.

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Those who have seen  ‘ An affair to remember’ or its scene by scene adaptation in Bollywood “Mann’ would remember how the actress chooses to not marry the able bodied hero because ‘the disabled  partner’ is a liability, or so the film showed. Of course the Hero accepts the woman in spite of the disability was another dimension that was needed to show him as the all encompassing idol.

People in love with the leading young man of 70s’ can never  overlook  the extraordinary contribution of his  ‘wheelchair bound sisters’ and ‘blind mothers’ in those movies. They obviously had nothing else to do then to cry about being the burden on the sole earning lead.

But why do we have to care about what they show in the cinema. We parents can choose not to watch such cinema or not to get influenced with it . But what about a general perception that gets formed with the poor portrayal of people with a disability. Take ‘Golmal’ for example, where one of the central character stammers and is made fun of throughout the movie. A lot of people would call it nit picking but think about the negative impact this would make in the heart of a teenager. The age when the peer pressure and  the need for social acceptance are at its peak, such movies can push the child further into their self imposed shell.

On the other hand, there is another movie called ‘The king’s speech’ which also deals with the same subject but on a totally different level. It explored the character, showed his challenges, inner turmoil. Fears, achievements and the best part, it never mocked or ridiculed his disability. This is the cinema we need. We need people to understand, to empathise with our kids and their struggles and we want the cinema to show us inspiring stories of the same and not the shallow cheap laughter at the cost of some person’s disability.

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Look a little close and you’d realise that Indian cinema has not only contributed in portraying people with special needs as caricatures, it has also barricaded them in the periphery. Most of these characters are written as an object of inspiration and not as normal human people going about their usual lives. They are in the movie to inspire and die or die and then inspire.

The real turnaround were two films, ‘Koshish’ made by Gulzar and ‘Sparsh’ by Sai paranjape, which treated the disabled as human beings without sensationalising their disability. Thank God,  the times are changing. While in Hollywood it started  with films like ‘My left foot’ or ‘born on the fourth of July’ where the central character had a disability but their journey was highlighted without trying to evoke sympathy for them.

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We still have a long way to go in Bollywood. But there are filmmakers who have given us some great movies. films like ‘Iqbal’ and ‘Taare zameen par’ ‘Black’ changed the way, disability was treated till now.  Iqbal was critically acclaimed for its never before portrayal of the lead character, a cricket obsessed boy from a remote village who happens to be deaf and mute. Never in the film his disability was used to get him sympathy. It was never once discussed with a negative connotation. Taare Zameen par made people believe that films made on subjects of disability can be commercially viable. This film brought a lot of awareness and information about Dyslexia.  ‘Black’ dealt with disability on a totally different angle. It was moving yet courageous.

We know the power of cinema and its reach. The positive representation of people with disabilities can go a long way in making people empathise with their journey and not just pity them. Actors, directors should take a stand whenever they feel the disability is being used to evoke sympathy or for making fun.

Cliché is just a word which means ‘overused’ to the extent of it being irritating and associating the portrayal of disability with this word means we are not reaching out to the new unexplored ways to show the person on that wheelchair or the spark in those almond shaped eyes.  Wake up Cinema people. The world is waiting!

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