Indian Cinema on Embracing Physical Disability
Differently-abled, not disabled is how we should identify them. To be born with a defect is not a sin. Nor does it make them incapable of living a happy life.
Whenever we see people with disabilities, we often develop pity, sometimes even cringe for them. Yes, things may not be easy for them as it is for others but to co-exist with the majorly ‘abled’ population requires them to fight social stigmas, and they have been gifted with strength and courage to fight the odds and make their way to a beautiful life. That is why we should call them differently-abled.
It is unfortunate that some of our movies ignored the sensitivity of physical disabilities and used it to add humor in films. What made some filmmakers think that a deaf, dumb, or stout person could be funny?
However, things have taken a different road recently, and people with certain physical difficulties are getting a fair share of representation in Indian cinema.
Autism is not a disease
Barfi is a special movie for several reasons. Through the female lead Jhilmil (played by Priyanka Chopra), we see and most importantly feel what an autistic person goes through; the humiliation, the ignorance, and alienation, we get a glimpse of all that.
In a scene where Jhilmil dances her heart out as if no one is watching, and her cousin starts to laugh at her, Jhilmil screams- “DON’T LAUGH!” Her scream is of desperation and it ached for acceptance to be treated as a normal person and not as an alien.
Deiva Thirumagal starring Vikram is yet another soul-touching story of an autistic father and his fight for custody of his daughter. This movie is a testament to the innocence that remains eternal in autistic people, unlike the remaining population who cultivate hatred in each other’s minds after growing up.
Krishna from Deiva Thirumagal is full of love and goodness and seeks nothing in return. The scene where he is thrashed by some goons taking advantage of his physical disability makes us rip our hearts off.
Isn’t it ironic that this man, who is full of love, is considered insane and dangerous instead of the people who tried to attack him? Well, that’s how this society works, the sanest of all are considered insane.
I probably would not have known about the condition Progeria if not for the Bollywood movie Paa. Progeria is a condition where the body grows old 16 times faster than the usual rate leading to an early death.
Aurobindo (played by Amitabh Bacchan) is born with Progeria and is looked down upon by the people around him. But thanks to his supportive mother and grandmother who never let anybody treat him differently. Auro grows up like any normal kid. His giant old body does scare off people at first but they are shown apologizing to him and befriending him.
It is equally important to pay attention and check on the caretakers of physically challenged people. Their life is equally difficult. They too face rejections and abuses as much as the physically challenged.
Amudhavan (played by Mammootty) from the movie Peranbu is a representation of those caretakers. He is not only thrown out of his house with his 14-year-old daughter suffering from spasticity (a muscular control disorder) but he is also left to struggle alone in raising her. It’s painful to see his journey in taking care of his physically challenged daughter.
Even when advised to abandon her, he stays by her with the utmost affection. The title of the movie does total justice to Amudhavan and his daughter – Peranbu (compassion).
Some difficulties may not be visible but can be heard and felt. Hichki is a film about Naina Mathur, an aspiring teacher suffering from Tourette Syndrome.
Naina is not one of those people who complains about her situation and pities herself. She is confident in her abilities and does not allow the syndrome to restrict her from getting her dream job. For a person without any disability, even a few rejections can lower the spirits but don’t count Naina in that category. Despite being rejected several times due to her syndrome, Naina does not lose hope. Her self-belief finally fetches Naina from her dream job.
Jokes on stammering are not uncommon. You and I have all made such jokes, or at least laughed at them once in our life disregarding the emotions of the person being humiliated for his stammer. This is exactly what the Malayalam film Su Su Sudhi Valmeekam tries to address.
Fear of humiliation and rejection turns Sudhi from Su Su Sudhi Valmeekam into an underconfident young lad. From losing all hope in life to becoming a successful and confident banker, we see Sudhi work on his speech defect and gain self-respect.
Being born without any physical disability does mean we are perfect or better. It won’t do us any harm to be empathetic and kind to the physically challenged community. So, let us do our part and make this world a safe space for them.
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