Home Header News Mental Health in Indian Cinema: Portrayals, Impact, and Changing Narratives

Mental Health in Indian Cinema: Portrayals, Impact, and Changing Narratives

Dear Zindagi - Mental Health
In the vast and diverse landscape of Indian cinema, mental health has emerged as a compelling and thought-provoking theme. It delves into the depths of human psychology, unravels the intricacies of emotional well-being, and often serves as a mirror reflecting societal stigmas surrounding mental health issues. Over the years, Indian cinema has embarked on a remarkable journey, evolving in its portrayal of mental health, influencing public perception, and redefining its narratives to promote awareness and understanding.

Early Portrayals

In the early years of Indian cinema, the depiction of mental health was rather simplistic and often riddled with inaccuracies. Characters grappling with mental health issues were typically portrayed in one of two ways. They were either shown as menacing, frightening individuals who posed a threat to others, or they were made the subjects of comedic relief, played for laughs. Regrettably, these early portrayals did more harm than good, perpetuating misunderstandings about mental health.
Thankfully, as time passed, Indian filmmakers began to approach mental health with greater care and sensitivity. They recognized the need to better understand the intricacies of the human mind and the struggles faced by those dealing with various mental health conditions.

A Shift Towards Nuance

The evolution of mental health portrayals in cinema led to a more thoughtful and compassionate approach. Rather than resorting to sensationalism or mockery, movies began to depict characters with mental health issues in a more realistic and nuanced manner. These characters were no longer one-dimensional stereotypes but instead became relatable, three-dimensional individuals who grappled with complex emotions and challenges.
In the modern cinematic landscape, films explore the emotional turmoil, vulnerability, and resilience of individuals dealing with mental health issues. Characters are portrayed with depth and authenticity, allowing audiences to connect with their experiences on a deeply emotional level. Filmmakers shifted the focus from superficial portrayals to realistic depictions, highlighting the authentic struggles faced by individuals managing their mental health.

Classic Films and Iconic Characters

In the realm of Indian cinema, certain classic films have played an invaluable role in reshaping how society perceives mental health, dismantling stereotypes, and challenging prevailing norms. These cinematic gems have left a lasting impression by delicately unravelling the intricacies of mental health issues.

Anand (1971)

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, “Anand” stands as a timeless example of cinematic brilliance. The film masterfully weaves a heart-rending tale of friendship and the looming spectre of terminal illness. As it explores these profound themes, it subtly shines a light on the emotional turmoil that consumes its characters. Central to this narrative is the character of Anand, brought to life by the legendary Rajesh Khanna. Anand’s indomitable spirit in the face of impending mortality not only resonates deeply with audiences but also fosters a heightened sense of empathy and understanding towards individuals battling grave health conditions. The film underscores the profound impact of terminal illness on mental well-being, making it a touchstone in the portrayal of mental health in Indian cinema.

Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963)

Directed by Vijay Anand, this film represents a pioneering effort in introducing audiences to a character grappling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It paints a vivid picture of the character’s struggles with meticulous sensitivity and compassion, marking one of the early instances in Indian cinema where a mental health condition was portrayed with a semblance of authenticity. By depicting the character’s experiences through a lens of empathy, the film made significant strides in dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.

21st-Century Bollywood

In the 21st century, Bollywood has continued its evolution towards more candid and empathetic portrayals of mental health issues. These films have boldly embraced subjects such as depression and anxiety, steering conversations about mental health into more open and inclusive spaces.

Dear Zindagi (2016)


Directed by Gauri Shinde, “Dear Zindagi” stands as a testament to the evolving landscape of Bollywood. The film unravels the intricate journey of its protagonist as she navigates the labyrinth of her emotional and mental landscape. It places a strong emphasis on the significance of seeking professional help and embracing self-acceptance, effectively dismantling age-old stigmas surrounding mental health. “Dear Zindagi” serves as a trailblazer, paving the way for more candid conversations about mental well-being.

Taare Zameen Par (2007)

Taare zameen par

Directed by Aamir Khan, this cinematic masterpiece sensitively portrays a child’s arduous battle with dyslexia. The film transcends surface-level portrayals, delving deep into the profound impact of this learning disorder on the child’s mental well-being. It serves as a poignant reminder of the critical need to understand and address the emotional aspects of mental health in young individuals. “Taare Zameen Par” resonates deeply with audiences, and its portrayal of the child’s struggles and eventual triumphs has played an instrumental role in destigmatizing learning disorders.

Karthik Calling Karthik (2010)

Karthik calling karthik

Directed by Vijay Lalwani, “Karthik Calling Karthik” delves into the intricate world of dissociative identity disorder (DID). The film’s protagonist, Karthik, brought to life by the talented Farhan Akhtar, undergoes a transformative journey triggered by a mysterious phone call. This cinematic narrative embarks on a profound exploration of the interplay between identity, trauma, and mental health, further enriching the diverse tapestry of mental health themes within Bollywood.
The movie serves as a compelling examination of how trauma and unresolved emotional wounds can fracture one’s identity, leading to the emergence of alternate personas. It delves into the profound impact of mental health challenges on an individual’s daily life and relationships. “Karthik Calling Karthik” poignantly illustrates the arduous journey of self-discovery and healing, underlining the importance of seeking help and confronting one’s inner demons.

15 Park Avenue (2005)

Directed by Aparna Sen, “15 Park Avenue” is a thought-provoking cinematic masterpiece that delves deep into the realm of schizophrenia. At its heart is the story of Meethi, portrayed with grace and depth by Konkona Sen Sharma, a woman who grapples with this severe mental illness. The narrative unfolds as her sister embarks on a relentless quest to find a place called “15 Park Avenue,” believed to be Meethi’s sanctuary.
The film is a poignant exploration of the profound impact of severe mental illness, not only on the individual but also on their loved ones. Meethi’s battle with schizophrenia is portrayed with nuance and empathy, highlighting the daily struggles, confusion, and isolation that individuals with such conditions may experience. Her sister’s unwavering determination to find a place of solace for her reflects the deep bonds of familial love and the lengths to which people will go to support those they care about.
“15 Park Avenue” underscores the critical need for compassion, understanding, and support for individuals living with severe mental illness. It sheds light on the challenges of managing these conditions in a society that often stigmatizes and marginalizes those who are affected. The film serves as a powerful reminder that individuals grappling with mental health issues deserve empathy, care, and opportunities for healing and inclusion.

Impact on Public Perception

Bollywood’s ever-evolving narratives have wielded a profound influence on public perception, reshaping the way people view mental health. These cinematic journeys have allowed audiences to forge connections with on-screen characters, sharing in their struggles and triumphs. This newfound ability to empathize has contributed significantly to breaking down the pervasive societal stigma associated with mental health. As Bollywood has portrayed mental health issues with greater authenticity, it has become a powerful agent of change, fostering empathy and solidarity among viewers.
One of the most striking aspects of this transformation is the emergence of relatable characters. These characters are not just mere figures on the screen but reflections of real-life individuals facing mental health challenges. As audiences witness their struggles, hopes, and journeys towards recovery, they find themselves better equipped to understand and support those in their own lives dealing with similar issues. This bridge of relatability has been instrumental in challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about mental health.

Eroding Stigma

Perhaps the most notable achievement of Bollywood’s evolving narratives is the gradual erosion of societal stigma surrounding mental health. These films have played a pivotal role in normalising conversations about mental well-being. By portraying mental health challenges with empathy and authenticity, Bollywood has illuminated the struggles that individuals face daily. As these stories resonate with viewers, they inspire empathy and compassion, gradually dismantling the barriers of fear and prejudice that once shrouded mental health.
Modern Indian cinema has also assumed the mantle of advocate for mental health awareness. It has fostered partnerships with mental health organizations, creating spaces for dialogue and offering resources to those in need. Bollywood celebrities, such as Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma, have courageously shared their own mental health journeys, becoming powerful voices in the crusade to destigmatize seeking help. Their openness has not only encouraged others to seek assistance but has also spotlighted the importance of early intervention and professional support.

The Road Ahead

While Bollywood has made significant strides in portraying mental health, there remains an extensive path yet to be traversed. The journey towards more inclusive narratives and a broader representation of mental health conditions must continue. It is vital to ensure that sensitive topics are handled with the utmost care and responsibility, avoiding sensationalism or trivialization. By doing so, Indian cinema can continue to be a catalyst for change, fostering understanding, empathy, and acceptance of mental health as an integral aspect of the human experience. The road ahead is one where cinema continues to break barriers, challenge stereotypes, and inspire a more compassionate and informed society.