Yesterday the team at Balaji productions released the first posters of a new movie titled ‘Mental Hai Kya’ to release on 21 June 2019. The movie stars Kangana Ranaut and Rajkumar Rao, two of the most prominent actors in the Hindi film industry. The movie also seems to promote the stigmatization of the mentally ill.
The movie had been titled long back and was drawing flak from many mental health professionals but the release of posters last night has increased the momentum and volume of the protests.
‘Mental Hai Kya?’ translates to ‘Are you mental?”. ‘Mental’ is often used as an annotation for crazy in India and the phrase is used very often for people who are behaving weirdly. The posters show the two actors balancing a razor blade on their tongues. Another one shows Rao putting out cigarettes on his forehead while smiling profusely. A different poster shows Ranaut crossing her eyes.
All these posters carry words like ‘weirdo’, ‘psycho’, and ‘crazy’. Words that are treated as symbolic of people with mental illnesses. Words that carry the stigma of mental illnesses along with them.
The movie has been described as a comedy, a psychological thriller and a drama. Some have called it a satire on mental illnesses. What is clear is that mental illnesses are the central theme of the movie and from what I have seen so far, it could be a movie that reinforces all the stereotypes against the mentally ill. One that demeans the people who have mental illnesses right now and expose them to more shame and humiliation from those around them
I haven’t seen the movie yet. I don’t know what is going to be in it and I don’t know what the plot is. What I know is that the marketing team is using the words used to describe mentally ill people as catchphrases. ‘Sanity is overrated’ is the tagline which again gives the impression that it is not a very well-informed movie.
But there is hope.
I am an optimist and I always try to look for some hope even when a big budget movie threatens to undo the work that I have been doing for multiple years.
The screenplay for the movie is written by Kanika Dhillon who had previously written a screenplay for the movie ‘Size Zero’. The Tamil movie was about a woman who felt that she had been rejected by her love interest because of her weight and how she ‘wins’ her love back. The director of that movie, Prakash Kovelamudi was appreciated for handling the issue of obesity and body image with sensitivity.
Kovelamudi is also the director of ‘Mental Hai Kya’. Moreover, Rao and Ranaut, the lead actors are known for selecting thought-provoking scripts which again makes me think that this movie could surprise many mental health professionals protesting against it.
I will have a clear idea on the plot and the depiction of mental illnesses in the movie only when I see the movie or at least a trailer. Until then I can only look at the issue from different sides.
The pessimist in me says that this movie will undo the years of hard work I and other fellow mental health activists have put in.
The optimist in me says that it will handle the issue sensitively and could change how people look at the mentally ill for the better.
The Karni Sena chief sitting next to me says I should get some people together and throw stones at a school bus to stop the movie from being released.
Let us see what the future holds.