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Portrayal of disability in

Literature and Cinema

Everyone has a right to dream, whether abled or differently abled. Iqbal (2005) of Nagesh Kukunoor asserts the victory of such undying spirit. The dumb boy, Iqbal aspires to be a bowler in the Indian Cricket Team. He suffers discrimination but triumphs over all odds

Disability is a major concern of our society. The Governmental and Non-Governmental sectors have been making efforts to fight it but it still remains a big challenge. We often hear about the pervasive presence of disability among people through the media which is an important source to cultivate right attitude towards disability and create awareness about it among people. Film is surely a very important medium towards this end. It would be interesting and pertinent to know as to how disability gets portrayed in cinema. This becomes all the more important because of the at large wide ranging impact of cinema on the society and public. 

Our mythology and puranas also do contain examples of differently-abled individuals like Dhritrashtra, Manthara, Ashtaavakra etc. Disability can be either inborn or a consequence of some unfortunate incident in life such as disease or accident. Films too have given space to representation of disability in various artistic forms.  

Only recently a film by Anurag Basu Barfi was released. It also became the official entry of India for Oscars. The protagonist Ranbeer Kapur playing a deaf and dumb man is simultaneously attracted to two girls, one of them being a physically challenged girl. The boy, Barfi, prefers the physically challenged girl over the other one. But, why ? It’s indeed a thought provoking question. Priyanka Chopra was much admired for her role as a mentally challenged girl, world apart from the glitter and glamour. It is significant that when a star of Bollywood plays such a character he is thought of displaying an exemplary courage for an artist. For instance, Sanjeev Kumar was much appreciated for playing the disabled in the legendary film Sholay although as we do know that his disability was incidental rather than being from birth. Likewise in the film Koi Mil Gaya (2003) Hrithik Roshan played a mentally challenged whose mental age was that of a eight year child although his biological age was twenty years. This movie was meant for the children and carried little social message yet, it proved that skilful use of creativity can make for a commercial hit as well. 

The Oscar winning movie The King’s Speech is a classic example of a beautiful portrayal of disability. The protagonist, the king stammers and becomes a victim of the jibes of his family. He gradually loses his confidence and finds it a mammoth challenge to speak from public platforms. The care and concern of his wife and the acumen of his trainer revives his confidence and ultimately he succeeds in delivering his speech. 

A similar problem was portrayed in the movie My Name Is Khan. Mani Ratnam’s movie Anjali and Mai Aisa Hee Hoon reveal the loneliness of those who have been forced to the periphery. The father in Anjali conceals the inborn disability of his daughter from his wife to spare his wife from a possible ordeal. The remake of I Am Sam by the name Mai Aisa Hee Hoon became a huge success. 

Hindi cinema has perhaps the largest audience in the world and it also claims to reflect the society. Deepika Padukone in the 2009 movie Lafangey Parindey plays the character of a dancer who loses her eyes prior to an important competition. The sight disabled girl loses confidence in her abilities but the hero Neel Nitin Mukesh trains her in such a manner that she regains her enthusiasm and confidence. The movie strongly conveys the message that no success is too high for the disabled to achieve. 

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the acclaimed Director, has used the medium of cinema to present this subject in an aesthetic manner. In Khamoshii(1996) the protagonist is deaf and dumb. Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas have played the touching role of a couple. Sign Language used in the movie becomes all the more expressive in the context of deep sensitivities of the disabled people. While

Patekar and Biswas are explicit about their disgust for music their daughter, on the contrary, is all about music. In a very touching scene the film shows the physically challenged being subjected to insult. Another such movie dwelling on this subject is Black (2005) in which the protagonist, Rani Mukherjee is deaf, dumb and blind. She gives voice to the deep void and the resounding silence of a deaf, dumb and blind person who becomes violent in the absence of a meaningful outlet for her feelings.  Later on she meets one Debraj Sahay who helps her out of the dark abyss. The third such movie was Guzarish (2010) which dwelt on the extremely sensitive issue of euthanasia through the story of the protagonist Hrithik Roshan suffering from quadriplegia that renders him virtually dead, a total invalid.  

Everyone has a right to dream, whether abled or differently abled. Iqbal (2005) of Nagesh Kukunoor asserts the victory of such undying spirit. The dumb boy, Iqbal aspires to be a bowler in the Indian Cricket Team. He suffers discrimination but triumphs over all odds under the able guidance of his coach Naseeruddin Shah to realize his dream. The best thing about the movie is that it does not view disability with pity or sympathy rather it views it as a challenge which leads to victory if faced bravely. One can hardly forget a similar character of Lagaan who makes a valuable contribution in the ultimate victory surmounting formidable challenges. But there are other movies that portray disability in a superficial or even derogatory manner in an attempt to create slapstick humour. Kader Khan’s Mujhse Shaadi Karogi is one such example which incites base humour at the expense of the debilitating disabilities of differently abled. 

Taare Zameen Par (2007) is a child centric movie but devoid of the fantasy element of Koi Mil Gaya. It is a sensitive movie based on deep insight into the grim realities of our day-to-day life. The disability that is subject matter of the movie is not apparent or easily visible. Instead it is buried deep in human brain. The child, Ishaan Shrivastava suffers from dyslexia that makes the reading of the alphabets a paramount difficulty. Although this makes the progress in academics difficult for the child yet his love and ability for painting makes him unique and capable of working wonders in this particular field. But the typical parents fail to perceive his difficulty as well as his unique talent and consider him a dull boy and punish him by putting him in a Boarding School.This punishment makes a deep scar on the sensitive mind of the child. But, then comes the Midas touch of Ramshankar Nikumb (Amir Khan) who not only fathoms the exact nature of his problem but discovers his unique talent as well. He gradually chisels him to bring out the best in him. This movie has a very serious message to deliver. Education has to be child specific and it ought to bring out the best in the child rather than reducing him to a machine. 

The much acclaimed film Pa (2009) brought the disease Progeria into public consciousness. For a person afflicted with this disease the brain and the body grow at a differential rate. Amitabh Bachchan has played the role of a boy, Auro, suffering from progeria who is loved by his cohorts and school mates.  The primary objective of the movie is not to popularize Progeria rather than to evoke the latent love of the father towards his child. 

Unlike literature in which we do find characters like Gandhari who wrapped a cloth round her eyes in her attempt to completely identify with her blind husband, Hindi Cinema depicts disability affecting the marital relationship primarily in two ways. In movies like Pati Patni (1966), Zameen Asman (1972), Kasauti (1974), Wakeel Babu (1983), Qatl (1986), Waada (2006) etc. the marital relationship crumbles. However, in other films, alternatives are explored or cure for disability is found. The climax of a 1972 movie Anurag that shows the cornea transplant as an answer to blindness is a memorable one. The love relationship with Vinod Mehra is sought to be redeemed in this fashion. Similar remedies have been sought to be projected in other movies like Jheel Ke Uss Paar (1973), Sunayna (1979), Neelkamal (1984) and Humko Tumse Pyar Hai (2006) etc. There are numerous such movies like Saathi (1968), Khamoshi (1969), Khilauna (1970) where cooperation and love are shown to smoothen the relationship in the context of disability.  

While talking about movies dwelling upon disabilities the story would rather be incomplete without the mention of classic movie Dosti (1964) in which the two differently abled friends complement each other with the gift of music which nature has bestowed upon them. Koshish (1972) stars the inimitable Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri who are dumb but they shine with their brilliant acting on screen. The message too was a forceful one. Differently abled people can manage to run their lives on their own without the aid, props and sympathy of the common lot but simultaneously the movie becomes heart rending when it shows the deaf and dumb parents losing their child because they were unable to hear the groans of their child. In Kinara (1977) Gulzar once again reveals his sensitivity towards the disabled in a potent fashion. Naseeruddin Shah in plays the role of a fiercely independent differently abled character in Sparsh. In the same league comes Sadma (1983) with its unique climax. Kamal Hasan and Sridevi leave an indelible impression on the viewers. The movie projects the differently abled as special children of God.  

Pranjal Dhar The author is a freelance journalist. 


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