Passion & compassion

Dear Ekta Kapoor, please change your movie title from 'Mental Hai Kya' to something that doesn't mock those suffering stigma and agony

The title of Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao's upcoming release, ‘Mental Hai Kya,’ exposes our glaring insensitivity towards those suffering from mental illnesses.

 |  Passion & compassion  |  7-minute read |   25-04-2019
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Dear Ekta Kapoor,

You happen to be a fantastic woman of substance. As a filmmaker, I’m sure you understand creative and dramatic liberties, and it’s your right to make a film on whatever you want. And this is coming from someone who watches cinema by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali — I get what dramatic liberties are and have no objection to anything made by anyone.

But I want to just draw your attention to the narrative around mental health in India — it is still a stigma.

Psychiatrists, counsellors, mental healthcare practitioners in India are working super-hard to battle the stigma to get patients to seek help. Some mental health patients are even incapable of seeking help in general for themselves.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has named India the most depressed nation in the world — with one in every three Indians suffering from depression.

Indians also go through other mental disorders, and it is common knowledge that most shy away from seeking help — blame a fear of society, being looked down upon, social isolation and more. Being called out in bad taste or unwelcomed probing and prodding could, in turn, simply act as a trigger, pushing the patient over the edge.

mental-hai-kya-kanga_042419042909.jpg  The Wrong Message, Entirely: How will this fight a deep stigma? (Source: Twitter)

I need you to understand what the President of the Indian Psychiatry Society, Dr Murugesh Vaishnav, has to say. He doesn’t need any publicity. He works in this area and represents the voice of mental healthcare practitioners. His argument is based on the usage of the phrase ‘mental hai kya’ in the title of your upcoming movie. It hits you very hard when you hear someone call you 'mental' when you’re already a patient. And it stays with you.

Could you imagine their plight for a second, please?

“Just like you don't call a physically challenged being 'handicapped' or a visually impaired person 'blind', you cannot call someone 'mental',” says Dr Vaishnav. Could you imagine their plight for a second, please? Could you imagine how extremely irresponsible this is?

Ekta, it is real. Some people have personality disorders, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, PTSD, OCD, histrionic personality issues and more — and it hits them very hard when someone calls them 'mental' or uses the word loosely and irresponsibly.

Ekta, it scars them. Something within makes them feel a stab more painful than a physical one. Something within makes them cry. Something within makes them feel ashamed.

Something within them also may give them suicidal thoughts.

I have met these patients and it’s not fun — neither can we afford to have fun at their expense.

In fact, it was Dr Vaishnav who explained the gravity of the situation to me — their agony by virtue of name calling has some very serious consequences. They start concealing their illnesses when they are supposed to address it and get treatment.

I haven’t seen your film Mental Hai Kya as it is still awaiting release. But just the title defeats the narrative around mental health that is slowly changing in our country, thanks to the relentless efforts of stakeholders of the profession.

Remember Deepika Padukone speaking up on depression? Many I know personally gathered the guts to get themselves treated when she broke her silence. The masses get influenced. So, at a time like this, the title makes a patient who’s silently suffering reel furthermore.

As someone who’s an advocate for mental health and wellness, I found Karan Johar speaking up make a huge difference.

Why don’t you use another title? Even if your movie has been made with the best of intentions, to challenge and break the stigma, the title is reiterating the damn stigma all over again.

Imagine a person who’s suffering spotted at the shrink’s clinic. Do you really want to see people turn to them and say, 'Mental hai kya?' Why mock sufferers?

Dr Vaishnav wants to ask you — are you mocking cancer survivours, TB sufferers, cardiac patients? No. You can’t. And you won't because you understand their trauma.

Then spare a thought for the trauma these patients go through.

6v6aujke_400x400_042419044746.jpgDear Ekta. Listen Up. We request you with great humility to change the name of your upcoming movie. (Source: IndiaToday.in)

You have caused agony, Ekta, just with the title. Even the mental health act in India does not allow you to insult such patients.

Akshita Gandhi, an artist I’ve known closely, has created works that deal with the subject of human trauma. Even she, as an artist, told me there needs to be a fine line drawn somewhere with the usage of words like ‘mental.’ She detests the word being used condescendingly or casually, sans the compassion and awareness of what it could do to the patient — and she understands creative liberties.

Neurologist Dr Sonia Lal Gupta feels the usage is precarious. On the one hand, it tries to bring awareness, but on the other, it is demeaning and damaging and contributes to the existing stigma. Unfortunately, mental health is used to imply a fault in the person. Dr Gupta feels these patients are anyway blamed for their behaviour — and just by making the phrase ‘mental hai kya’ popular, it insults them further.

Not just that, Dr Kamna Chibber, a clinical psychologist who deals with these patients day in and day out, does not approve of the title either. She feels it is diminishing the magnitude of suffering faced by patients and turns it into something that can be made fun of by society, as if they need not be taken seriously. It makes society take a few steps backwards from all the progress that's been made in busting myths and misconceptions that surround mental health.

Psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh explained how he and his team have always believed in the creative freedom of expression for all — but also strongly believe that any expression in the public domain should be with a certain sense of social responsibility. The fact is, there is a stigma, rampant discrimination around mental health and it drastically affects help-seeking behaviour, resulting in the silent suffering of lakhs of people.

1_042419045431.jpgWe urge you, Ekta, have a dialogue. Hear the other side. Understand what a title like this can do to those impacted. (Source: Twitter)

There are talks of introducing mental health curriculum to schools as one of the key components in shaping the narrative around mental health that reduces stigma. At such a time, a cinematic rendition of comedy or violence using mental health as a backdrop is not only unfortunate but must be avoided, according to Dr Parikh. He reiterates how we need to have film and media support the cause of mental health, role models of the youth help bring positivity around the narrative of mental health — and thus, remove the stigma.

What you have done, to my mind, is the opposite.

Come forward, have a dialogue with stakeholders and see if you are convinced.

At least, listen.

Sure, you had registered the title long ago. But today, the narrative around mental illnesses needs to be treated with more dignity than ever before.

Has Bollywood mocked these patients before? Yes — the list is endless.

And that makes it worse.

Can Bollywood help normalise this topic? Yes — and we saw that with Deepika and Karan coming forth in a very responsible manner. But then comes a film like this that pours all the efforts of some responsible celebrities down the drain.

Ekta, why don’t you consider using another title? We hope we have given you enough reasons for why you must, and you can.

Warm regards,

On behalf of advocates of mental health awareness.

Also read: From pinched bottoms to bruised souls: When will Indian society let even one woman say, no, not MeToo?

Writer

Chaiti Narula Chaiti Narula @chaiti

The author is deputy editor with India Today TV.

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