Bollywood has had several films with specially-abled/chronically unwell women as romantic leads. The latest to join this list is Anushka Sharma-Shah Rukh Khan Starer Zero, where the former is shown to have cerebral palsy.  Last year, in Mukkabaaz, we had an aphonic heroine and in 2012 the film Barfi! had a female lead with autism. While we can think of many such films, do we pay much attention to how these films tackle the issue? Or how well and realistically do they capture the intimate partner relationship with a specially-abled or chronically ill person?

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • While there are many films with specially-abled/chronically ill female leads, how well do these films tackle the subject?
  • It feels like Bollywood has a tendency to romanticise everything even if it is chronic illness or death and special-ability falls prey to this Bollywood trope as well.
  • While there may be just a handful of films which represent this marginalised community in mainstream cinema, they play a significant role in the normalisation of romance and love among them.
  • However cliched the template of films with specially-abled female leads in Bollywood may be, we are happy that in some way our films do put forth to the general population that they too have the right to love and be loved.

It feels like Bollywood has a tendency to romanticise everything, even chronic illness or death, and special ability falls prey to this rose-tinted gaze.

Back in the 60s or 70s, or even till the 90s you would find that the only disability a Bollywood leading lady dealt with was blindness. As cruel as it may sound, the truth is that Bollywood has a history of preferring this one special ability over the rest. Lack of sight was the only way Bollywood could still make its leading ladies appear glamorous and add a sense of spirituality to the romantic narrative. The only exception to this which comes to my mind is Black (2005), which not only refused to include romance into the narrative, but also touched on education, independence and empowerment of the specially-abled character.

Another impressionable specially-abled character on the silver screen, for me, was in the film Guru (2007), where Vidya Balan essayed a character with multiple sclerosis, whose health deteriorates over the course of the film. But any film which has come close to keeping it real is Margarita With a Straw (2014), which starkly portrays the struggles of a girl who has cerebral palsy, and addresses her sexuality too. While there may be just a handful of films which represent this marginalised community in mainstream cinema, they play a significant role in the normalisation of romance and love among them. That specially-abled or chronically ill people too fall in love and have the right experience that feeling in all its glory, is something which we do need to talk about more.

While there may be just a handful of films which represent this marginalised community in mainstream cinema, they play a significant role in the normalisation of romance and love among them.

We all know that caring for a bedridden person is not what films would want us to believe. I’ve seen caregivers clean excreta and blood clots, tend to sores and spend night after night awake and making numerous trips to a hospital. The bond that they share with those in their care does undergo a lot of strain. I am sure it is even more challenging when it is a partner not an old parent who needs care, but Bollywood makes us look at this relationship through rose-tinted glasses, giving us a view very detached from the reality.

However cliched the template of films with specially-abled female leads in Bollywood may be, we are happy that in some way our films do put forth to the general population that they too have the right to love and be loved. We hope, in the near future, the fable of romance between specially-abled and chronically ill heroines and heroes will be addressed proper representation and sensitive storytelling sans glamour and rosiness. If only more films explored such relationships as beautifully and realistically as the 1972 film Koshish did.

Also Read : Who Is Responsible For Women’s Invisibilisation From The Narrative?

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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