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5 Bollywood films about complex characters and childhood trauma

Bollywood has often faced criticism for not accurately portraying mental illness. The 2021 film Atrangi Re is the latest example of that where the makers may have trivialized PTSD and child trauma a little too much.

** several spoilers ahead! **

Atrangi Re

Atrangi Re

Atrangi Re highlights the trauma of a young girl who witnesses the murder of her parents, burned to death in a dangerously public setting. While the film does a fine job at shedding light on the issue, it doesn’t quite deal with it with sensitivity required for such a subject.

It drops some educational elements to help the story move forward, includes some superficial knowledge about therapy and medication as treatment, but it’s all simply to complete a “love story”.

However, on the flip side, I also agree with writer Himanshu Sharma’s argument that he “wasn’t making a documentary”.

“You may say it trivialises the issue, but I would just like to say that I was trying to make these difficult topics simple, so that it can be accessible and can reach a larger number of people,” Sharma said recently.

This conversation got me thinking about other Hindi films whose stories were driven by characters with trauma… and perhaps how they dealt with it.

Please note, I’m not a professional in the subject. These are merely my observations of the characters and their complexities.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha [2015] : Prem Prakash Tiwari
(played by Ayushmann Khurrana)

Dum Laga Ke Haisha

Prem’s lack of interest or aptitude to study becomes the cause of his inferiority complex. The constant nagging of his family and taunts of being a failure in life for not pursuing a steady career with any growth prospects inevitably worsens his trauma with age.

To top it off, when he is reluctantly married off to the girl who doesn’t fit the typical standards of “beauty”, his defense is to play the victim as his coping mechanism. Perhaps the anxiety of never having a win in life, makes it easier for him to blame others for his ineptitude and incompetences.

There is one instance in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, when Prem attempts to channel his energies by studying for a much-dreaded English exam and appears for it with confidence. However, the overwhelming fear of another failure along with the emotional turmoil of a broken marriage almost paralyzes him. Instead of choosing to fight against the fear, he once again opts for flight and leaves the paper with an emotional note.

It’s the crippling fear along with the feeling of shame and embarrassment that makes Prem suicidal. He doesn’t have a shoulder to lean on for comfort or support – his parents and friends have given up on him and he’s pushed his wife away. With no one to share his pain with, he internalizes the impending humiliation.

Although Prem wins the race (pun intended) in the end, I would’ve also loved to see how Prem turn his life around for the better.

Hasee Toh Phasee [2014] : Meeta (played by Parineeti Chopra)

Hasee toh phasee

Meeta lacks courage to speak her mind (without the help of alternative substances) because she’s been hushed before.

She comes from a conservative family of mostly daughters and always tends to cause trouble. Although, what her mother and other elders think of as disobedience is rewarded by her father as skill.

Unlike Prem from Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Meeta is academically inclined to achieve excellence as a scientist, takes risks and isn’t afraid of asking questions. But again, she has been silenced from a young age on the account of being a “difficult child”.

From being slapped by her uncle to being accused of causing a heart attack to her father, Meeta struggles to cope with the trauma of being the black sheep and the guilt of causing her family distress.

Though she succeeds at inventing a revolutionary solution to produce sustainable electricity, she’s misunderstood as a selfish drug-addict who’s up to no good, ever!

Meri Pyaari Bindu [2017] : Bindu (played by Parineeti Chopra)

Meri Pyaari Bindu

Bindu is rash, unreasonable, and also selfish, but it’s probably because she has a lot of unresolved issue that she can’t come to terms with.

She loved her mother who suddenly died in an accident caused by her drunk father. Her resentment towards her father is so strong that she’s constantly escaping him and reality – her coping mechanism.

No amount of love from friends, music or even Abhimanyu (Ayushmann Khurrana) can really fill that void. Perhaps that’s the reason she compromised on being in a relationship with him whom she was never really in loved. He was simply her distraction and a safety net, till it all got too real and she escaped again.

That’s why Bindu is surprised at her own abilities to be a dedicated mother who’s succeeding at raising a daughter and is in a happy marriage – something she doesn’t feel the need to escape.

Highway [2014] : Veera (played by Alia Bhatt)

Highway

Veera comes from an affluent family with dirty dark secrets. She is a victim of child sexual abuse but instead of being encouraged to right the wrong, her mother and guardian has directed her to sweep in under the rug.

As a woman, Veera has been scarred by the incident and understands the severity of it but is captive to her domesticity in Delhi. She yearns for freedom, not just from the incestuous sexual offender but everyone involved in suppressing her.

Veera’s childhood trauma is severe that she seamlessly and comfortably finds her solace with her kidnapper Mahabir (Randeep Hooda). A case of Stockholm Syndrome or finding peace and independence in the company of a stranger?

She finally feels safe in a world that will not harm her or silence her. She’s free to climb mountains, travel on the roof of buses, hold a gun, make Maggi in a tiny shack… Veera was just looking for a place that felt like home, instead she found a person she could call home, Mahabir!

Dear Zindagi [2016] : Kaira (played by Alia Bhatt)

Dear Zindagi

Kaira’s story opens as a promising cinematographer navigating through her career and love life. Except she’s unfulfilled with both and her life seems to be crumbling down before her eyes.

She breaks up with her childhood sweetheart only to be left heartbroken by another man immediately, she’s being removed from her apartment in Mumbai and has no choice but to stay with her parents in Goa. That’s when the trauma resurfaces.

Kaira has abandonment issues because her parents left her to live with her grandparents after she failure a year in school. Due to this, she associated any failure in life with total abandonment. Understandably the reason why she also had commitment issues in her relationships.

She internalized the childhood trauma to the point that cause her sleepless nights and made her irritable at happy couples around her.

Possibly the only film in recent times that intelligently explored therapy to heal our mind and shed some light on parents-children relationship.

Do you remember any film that dealt with childhood trauma and complex characters? Please share in the comments.