The Lancet on Sushant Singh Rajput, Mental Health & Bollywood
Can Bollywood catalyse India’s mental healthcare discussion?
Science journal The Lancet Psychiatry has written on ‘Bollywood and The Brain’, discussing the aftermath of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide on the mental health discourse in India.
The case was fraught with intrigue, with allegations of drug use, bullying and conspiracy theories but lacked a nuanced discussion of mental health on television media.
The paper, entitled, ‘Bollywood on the brain: gender and mental health in Hindi cinema’ discusses the far-reaching impact Bollywood and film stars can have on our perspectives and awareness of mental health. It hails Deepika Padukone speaking up about her depression as a “landmark moment” for mental health in India.
Bollywood and Mental Health
The paper also looked at the shifting rhetoric on mental health in India through its films. For example, in 1970’s Khamoshi, the first big film to depict mental illness, the heroine is a jilted lover who becomes institutionalised. Compare that to 2017’s Dear Zindagi, a film primarily on mental health, where Alia Bhat has a depressive episode, visits her psychologist (played by Shah Rukh Khan) and has a happy ending. The film, with two major stars, was a box office success and showed how India is opening up to nuanced takes on mental health and illnesses.
Of course, Bollywood still has miles to go towards sensitive portrayals of mental health. For example, most characters with mental health illnesses are seen to have them because of spurned love and not other socio-economic or biological causes.
The author shows how most portrayals feature women protagonists with mental health conditions as if men or other genders do not deal with them as well. This also links back to perhaps why mental health failed to be discussed much in Sushant Singh Rajput’s case.
In the end, the media can hold up a mirror to our society and push the needle on much-needed conversations on mental health. Bollywood can be a great tool to discuss civic issues and normalise mental health in India.
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