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Autism and Representation
Case Western Reserve Univ
Cleveland, Ohio
28-30 October 2005



Sudha Rai
University of Rajasthan
Do not cite without permission of author.

"Autism in Indian Cinema: Cultural Representations of Disability"

My paper evaluates attitudes to disability based on representations in contemporary Indian cinema and examines the emergent perspective on 'understanding' autism initiated in the films Anjali (1990) and Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005). The problem of disability and the mentally challenged, as I will briefly go on to illustrate from two other recent Hindi films, Koi Mil Gaya (2003) and Tera Mera Saath Rahen (2001) is marginalized as an independent issue, on account of masculinist social structures that appropriate its visibility. I suggest therefore that ‘ability' itself is an implicit discourse of masculinity. The preservation of the patriarchal Indian values within the institutions of marriage and family results (in these films), in the assimilation of the protagonist with disability, or the solution to the problem of the disabled, into the conventional masculinist gender model within these social structures.

Indian cinema from the 1960s onwards had made interventions in portraying disability as part of its mission of socially committed cinema, with a bias for portraying clearly identifiable disabilities such as vision, hearing or speech impairment.. Dosti (1964), Koshish (1972), Sparsh (1984), Nache Mayuri (1986) and Khamoshi (1996) were committed approaches in mainstream cinema, drawing attention to the day-to-day struggles of people with disabilities, their sensitivities, the difficulties they face in procuring jobs (in the absence of reservation policies), as well as their loneliness and need for companionship, friendship and marriage.

Filmmakers' keen revival of interest in the lives of the physically and mentally challenged begun a decade ago, has resulted in films that attempt the cross-over from commercial to socially purposeful cinema, though not always successfully. In Hindi cinema, (or 'Bollywood ' ), Khamoshi (1996) , Tera Mera Saath Rahen (2001) , Koi Mil Gaya (2003) , Black (2004) , Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005) and Iqbal (2005) are films from the post 1990s that figure disability.


The Framework of Masculinity

A comprehensive interpretation of representations in cinema, that evaluates the strength of the patriarchal order and its alignment of power within gender roles, emerges when we apply a feminist approach to commercial Indian cinema (See Jain and Rai 2000).

As the deployment of such an approach to films on disability makes clear, (by sifting images, dialogues, voices, spaces, and endings of films), the appropriation and assimilation of disability in general by societal and family values reflects the construction of ‘ability' itself as a normative discourse of masculinity. Just as much as women, who even in a changing Indian society, are largely sidelined as individuals, the disabled exist only as a pre-text , for they are denied value under their identity of ‘people with disabilities'. In standing by this argument, in my reading of these films on disability, I contest the stand Ghai (Corker ed 2002) takes in the Indian context, that: "The binary of disability / ability does not figure, as disability represents horror and tragedy."

The implicit discourse of masculinity within mainstream cinema from Bollywood asserts itself through normative imaging of the male body (tall, handsome and with rippling biceps). These essentialist role models of masculinity, lauding aggressive masculine language and behaviour and the stereotyped encoding of male-female heterosexual relations, necessitate the projection of the submissive, self-sacrificing woman, whether in her role as girl friend, wife or mother.

In understanding and evaluating the overall context of social change in modern India , from gendered, patriarchal structures, to non-gendered depatriarchalized family and social formations, it is important to observe the extent to which women are given representation, voice and independent agency within narratives and social texts. As Sunder Rajan (2000) comments: "Change" itself may be more or less radical: when it is effected through processes described as "social reform", it finds accommodation within a paternalistic, not to say patriarchal rationale of protection, moral dicta, benevolence and, in the final analysis control of women."

The engagement of western and Indian critical theory with the concept of 'dominant' or 'hegemonic' masculinity and the theorizing of 'alternative' masculinities has opened up fresh perspectives for considering the masculine centre of power within the Indian socio-cultural configuration of class, caste, gender and history. The perception of "men's contradictory experiences of power" (Kaufman: 1994) is detrimental to the male identity, impinging on the desirable flow of energy and support that should be directed towards acceptance and support of specific disabilities like autism.

As Kaufman (1994) argues: "In more concrete terms the acquisition of hegemonic (and most subordinate) masculinities is a process through which men come to suppress a range of emotions, needs and possibilities, such as nurturing, receptivity, empathy, and compassion, which are experienced as inconsistent with the power of manhood. These emotions and needs do not disappear; they are simply held in check or not allowed to play as full a role in our lives as would be healthy for ourselves and those around us."

The functioning of hegemonic masculinity (a framework that I apply), regulates the attitudes of the majority, encouraging a rejection of the speech and behavioural differences of the disabled / autistics. The projection of an alternative masculinity of the nurturing father in Anjali and Main Aisa Hi Hoon is a potentially liberating model for the future of welfare of the disabled.

P.K. Vijayan (Bose ed 2002) points out to a new history of "aggressive masculinization” in the post 1990s 'Hindutva' agenda of politics with mythologies of power and aggressive masculinities drawn from the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The new masculinities create a resistant current to the feminist thrust of women's organizations that are seeking to bring in values of openness, equity and justice. My reading of the narrative of the autistic in Indian cinema demonstrates the dominance of the forces of masculinity in the name of "family", "society" even magnified to "nation" as Karen Gabriel (Bose ed: 2002), examining the issue of 'desire' in Bombay commercial cinema, argues.


The Discourse of Madness and the Construction of the ‘Other'

The correlative of the endorsement of aggressive masculinities at the psychological level through imaging, is the construction at the discoursal level, of an ‘other', who is certified a mad person. People with disabilities are conveniently summed up under this discourse of madness as mad persons - ' pagal ', threats to a stable social order. By overt statement and implied attitudes of condemnation and mockery, the disabled are thereby denied the right to society's concern. By implication, one is either ‘male' and ‘normal' or ‘other' and ‘mad', and therefore useless to society. Representations in films such as Koi Mil Gaya or Tera Mera Saath Rahen show up consistent patterns of discoursal formation for dissemination of destructive social attitudes to the disabled, resulting in a distancing of this group through fear or ridicule.

The above-mentioned attitudinal cultural paradigm, for relating to the disabled, runs across various sections of society. In cinematic representations, the older generation and the younger one, even children, disseminate this crippling bias, denying people with ‘different' traits and abilities entry into an all-male bastion of ‘heroes'. For schoolteachers, lawyers, upper or lower class representatives who are characters in the films that will be discussed, mental retardation, mental illness and autism are shameful aberrations of the human that they decide to look squarely in the eye and wage war upon.

The medical and rational discourse on disability autism in the films under consideration here, eventually become submerged, in my theory of disability film discourse, under the sentimental discourses of love, religious discourses of sin (' paap ') and punishment, and the judgmental social discourses of madness.


Appropriation of Women to the Masculinist Agenda of Disability

The discourse of masculinity (implicit and explicit) that succeeds in alienating the mainstream population from the disabled, under the guise of the latter being mad persons, has another successful outcome. As women within family and social structures are constructed in these films as bodies, not intelligences, wherein they are expected to be physical providers and nurturers, sacrificial mothers and wives, the openness to a woman's involvement with disability on any other lines, professional, institutional or legal, is ultimately discouraged. The understanding of disability is thereby trapped within the patriarchal institution of family and marriage, overriding other areas of agency where women have proved themselves capable of working out more modern choices, reforming conservative attitudes to disability that are often marked by a 'passive' sentimentality.

When the institution of marriage becomes the nucleus and its stability the primal goal, any disruptions to its balance of normalcy and/or gender relations is resisted. It then becomes a foregone conclusion, as the films Anjali and Main Aisa Hi Hoon make clear, that the space for women and voices of women on disability will receive only a token acknowledgement. Though institutional care is depicted in the films illustrated from, the perspective on such institutions is hardly encouraging (given the sizeable advances in India in the area of day care, counseling and skills development for autistics). Such institutional spaces are projected as a poor, loveless alternative to the ‘safe' spaces of home, calling upon once again, the woman in the patriarchal structure of home to take up the entire ‘burden', the responsibility of care of the disabled.


Anjali (1990): Resistance to Discourses of Madness and Openness to the Unknown

Anjali, a film by the film director Mani Rathnam, made originally in Tamil, was dubbed in Hindi and reached national audiences in 1990. Made in the year of the Girl Child, the film has been variously reviewed in web postings as a film about a young two-year-old girl child Anjali, who is sometimes described as having Down's syndrome, or being an autistic, or a mentally challenged child. I use the lack of clarity on the nature of the disability in Anjali to map historically, an early phase in the understanding of autism-like behavioural representations in Rathnam's film. The film is an important intervention into disability, a significant attempt to rescue attitudes to disability from being caught in the discourses of ‘madness' and the ‘other', seeking to situate disability within the plane of ‘the unknown'. Rathnam suggests in his choice of genre and technique that disability, like other areas of the unknown such as fantasy and sci-fi, is a terrain that we must discover, just as much as the groups of children, chorus-protagonists in Anjali who serve as pathfinders to society, discover gradually for themselves.

Rathnam's experimental film narrates the story of a civil engineer Shekhar, his wife Chitra and their two children – a son Arjun, and a daughter Anu. The family occupies one of the flats in a large complex of flats. The elders take the decisions at society meetings, preserving discipline and a state of order, threatened nonetheless by the rebellions and interrogations of the gang of children constantly on the prowl for goings-on in the world of adults. A young pair of lovers from these flats, carry on with their romance, seeking to escape the eagle eye of their two patriarch fathers, supported by the enthusiasm of the children who cast their vote in favour of love and freedom.

Halfway through the film, the ‘dark secret' of Shekhar the father, (whose mysterious disappearances from the family have led Chitra and her children to conclude that Shekhar is in an affair with another woman), is disclosed. Chitra had given birth to a child- Anjali- but since the infant was brain damaged at birth, and in order not to put life-threatening stress on the life of Chitra, Shekhar perpetuates the lie that Anjali died at birth.

Anjali, now two years old has received institutional care, including regular visits from her father Shekhar. With Chitra's discovery of the dark and well-kept secret, a new phase opens for the family and for the inmates of the other society flats. Rathnam juxtaposes the conflicting attitudes and dilemmas of the inmates of the domestic spaces of ‘home', alongside the vehement responses and homogenised behavioural patterns of ‘society', in the representative microcosmic spaces of the complex of flats that is the ‘public' sphere.

Patterns of fearful and withdrawn social behaviour, random and repetitive clapping of hands or slapping of her mother's face, characterise Anjali's autism-like behaviour. Anjali is adjusted only to her father, initially retreats from physical contact with her brother and sister, and is virtually hostile to her mother. The complex swings in her moods and behavioural patterns suggest- despite the film director's intention to come to grips with the disorder- a gap in comprehending mental illness, or retardation , or aspects of possible autistic behaviour .

The father Shekhar, (part of the conspiracy, along with the lady doctor who delivered Anjali, to protect Chitra from the trauma of a disabled child,) is projected as the gentle, nurturing, stoic new masculinity, glorified by the doctor and by Chitra herself. The implicit discourse of masculine heroism for Shekhar results however in the reduction of Chitra to an emotional, hysterical prototype of a weak femininity. I cite a sequence in the film that shows us Anjali tugging her father's tie, as he bids goodbye to her before setting out for work. Chitra repeats the action, by holding onto his tie, suggesting an equivalence between the young child and Chitra in their dependence on Shekhar.

Chitra's entire thrust after Anjali is brought home, seems to be on getting Anjali to call out her name- ‘ amma ' (mother), that the child finally does in a prolonged, melodramatic sequence. Chitra's reactions to her child are fearful and the behaviour of Anjali seems specially programmed by the filmmaker to torment the mother and heap guilt upon her. The normative construction of motherhood within patriarchal Indian society is pertinent to an interpretation of Chitra's internalization of guilt, her extreme protective attitude, the single-handed isolating way in which she relates to Anjali, without reaching out for help to friends or neighbors. To me, it is one of the drawbacks of the film that all the women in other flats are tarred with the same brush, as insensitive voyeurs and judges, with not a friendly word or positive intervention. The same holds true for the men, with the sole exception of the male operator of the flat who asks Chitra to ignore the discourse of ‘madness' coming from the inmates of the society flats, or of the male ‘criminal' living in one of the flats, whom Anjali takes a liking to. The masculinist construction of binaries in the film upholds a centrist middle-class ideological formation.

Anjali nonetheless opens doorways for a more sympathetic approach to the realm of the unknown- be it the mind of the criminal, madness, disability, or the remote other undiscovered worlds that the children aspire to make a magic journey to, conveyed in the lyrics of one of their songs in the film. It attempts to rectify a mindset of the masses in Indian society by encouraging the acceptance of disability rather than a dismissive approach to it as madness. However the film makes certain concessions to popular entertainment criteria for Indian cinema by amply adding on suspense, hysteria and fear in close-up sequences that illuminate Anjali's behaviour and in shots of the doctors who deal with Anjali's illness, echoed in their grim, doomsday pronouncements about the uncertainty of her living on at all. The possible link between the institutional care for autistics and family care is eliminated, magnifying a world without alternatives and possibilities.

The abrupt end of the film has drawn uniform comment from viewers and reviewers, as Anjali dies suddenly at home, foreclosing the film's potential to bridge the barriers between the adult masculine world (that holds power) and the margins (the world of disability) The children have meanwhile closed the yawning gap between them and Baby Anjali through acceptance conveyed through the sense of touch, as they exchange exuberant expressions of bonding.


Main Aisa Hi h oon (2005): Fighting the Cause of the Autistic

A film that is an Indianized version of I am Sam , Main Aisa Hi h oon directed by Harry Baweja is a film that brings in other issues into the masculinist framework for cinema on disability in India, making imperative the problematisation of the circulation of Western cinema into India through cable TV networks and videos available for viewing by English audiences. Main Aisa Hi h oon is the first film in mainstream Hindi cinema to explicity the use the word "autism", and make it part and parcel of legal proceedings, defending the rights of the autistic father. The plot line for Main Aisa Hi Hoon delineates the struggles of Neel, an adult autistic capable of leading a semi-independent life, holding a job in Café Coffee Day for the last fifteen years. Neel lives on the ground floor of a house owned by Ritu 'didi' , (sister) who takes care of his creature needs and showers him with affectionate care. On the lines of I Am Sam, the film opens in the narrative voice of Neel's seven- year- old daughter (by Maya), Gungun, who takes on the pressures of having an autistic father who is laughed at, but whom she dearly loves. The shared bond between father and daughter transcends the obstacles created by the disability, until Maya's father from London , returns with right royal villainy, to take custody of his granddaughter Gungun.

Neel's journey of understanding takes in the loss of Maya who deserts him (as she is a confused, unhappy individual from a loveless home), his daily struggles to provide companionship and support to Gungun for her schooling and the time spent with his other mentally challenged friends. The ridicule Neel encounters as an autistic comes from schoolchildren too, who dismiss him as a mad person. A fully drawn, warm and lovable character, Neel plays the guitar and sings and performs. Maya loves him for his simplicity and honesty. Neel's empathy for those who suffer whether it is Maya, Gungun, the female lawyer Nidhi Khanna, a lonely divorcee, or her son, is consistent. Despite the projection of a simple idealization of the autistic as hero, the film pursues the complexity of Neel's positive and negative emotions by framing gestures such as hand-clapping, closed or open gestures of body language, that communicate his hurt, anger, exhilaration and concerted effort to comprehend new situations.

In the conversations between Ritu didi and Neel, we find the concept of the ‘normal' being deconstructed, as Maya with her emotional baggage was certainly not normal. Neel opens up the concepts of normalcy and the abnormal, in conversations with Nidhi and his two male friends. Neel's mentally challenged friends are humanized as the trio puzzles out the grey areas of ‘normal' human communication and behaviour.

The court proceedings for granting custody over Gungun to either her grandfather or to her father Neel, are polarized between the values of "human intelligence" on the one had and "human love" on the other. The prosecution lawyer rubs in Neel's shortcoming as an autistic, repeatedly declaring "He's a retard." At a point in the proceedings, he turns to Nidhi saying "Autistic... is that the technically correct word for a handicapped person"? His intent is not to clarify the term but to exploit a new descriptive term in medical science to the full, and impress the courtroom audience with the gravity of the problem. At the end of the proceedings Nidhi responds to his question with: "And yes, the term is autistic". No attempt is made by Nidhi, to categorize and detail Neel's levels of intelligence as a semi-independent autistic, in her defense. The representations of Neel's behaviour are inconsistent as he often draws inferences and processes questions put to him cognitively and on many occasions dispays below average intelligence.

Pushed to the wall by social constructions of madness about his self, Neel internalizes then and in 'one emotional outburst in the court proclaims "Main paagal hoon... main normal nahin hoon" ("I am a mad person... I am not normal.”). The message of the film conveyed through the autistic Neel, a suggested role model for a heartless, materialistic, deceptive social order is, in Nidhi's words that "we need to think through our heart.”

Main Aisa Hi Hoon introduces a new, nurturing masculinity of the autistic Neel, who resists denigrating discourses of madness, depicting the dedication of young Gungun to her father's problems, encouraging the viewer to reject conservative and aggressive patriarchal mindsets that function through authoritative, closed discourses. Despite this opening of ideological frames, a closer analysis of the three prominent adult women in the film- Maya, Ritu didi and the top notch lawyer Nidhi Khanna makes clear the denial of voice and space, and the slotting of women under a common Indian stereotype of the guilt-ridden, self-effacing, altruistic female. Maya is crippled by her father's failure to love her, and dies of a drug overdose, after writing him a loving last letter wishing that he reclaims her family i.e. Gungun and Neel. The overbearing father, makes a selective interpretation of her letter and comes back (as an NRI recovering family and nation) to reclaim only Gungun, his granddaughter, spurning Neel as a half-wit.

Ritu didi , about whom we learn through a public exposure of her ‘crime' in court, cannot live with the guilt of being responsible for her young son's death, that had occurred years ago, when she had left him in a closed car parked wrongly on a busy street. She most often conveys a mute sympathy for Neel, without anger at the way he is treated by society at large.

The firebrand defense lawyer Nidhi Khanna, who has pushed the case for the rights of the autistic father to custody of Gungun, does a volte-face, by taking a split-second decision to marry Neel and thus present to the court the ‘logic' of one ‘normal' parent. Her capitulation to masculinist norms is a sad betrayal of the need for lawyers to put pressure on the law, to ensure dignity of rights for the autistic. The film, in line with the argument I have presented all along, upholds the patriarchal powers of family, cementing the absolute value of marriage in tiding over crises, thereby obstructing emergent processes of change. Finally, the film endorses Neel's capacity for love as a supreme value rather the autistic's propensity to accelerate learning 'ability' under the instrumentality of love.


Disability vs Marriage

Tera Mera Saath Rahen ("May You and I always Be Together) examines the issues surrounding the care of a 14 year old boy Rahul affected by cerebral palsy, and the single minded dedication of his elder brother Raj Dixit. Despite the pressures of his own job, Raj takes on all the stresses of nurturing his brother, with day-care help.

The film's thrust on exploring the support system offered by "special" institutions is initiated by Madhuri, whom Raj falls in love with. However, the film strays away from its consideration of the advantages of special skills, education and care in complementing the efforts of family members such as Raj in two ways. Firstly, home and special institutions / rehabilitation centres are projected in binary opposition, so that it is not only Rahul who is violently opposed to being outside the boundaries of home. Raj himself is shown as a tormented, guilt-ridden party to the virtual exile of his brother. Secondly, Raj's marriage to Madhuri is made the nucleus of the film, thus impaling a 'modern' solution to responsibility for the disabled Rahul, with the sentimental closure of reasonable alternatives. Predictably, the film ends on the note of reclaiming Rahul within the domain of home-care (entirely) while reclaiming the female - Madhuri within the domain of home. A mistrust and lack of acceptance of institutional care is the representational logic of Tera Mera Saath Rahen . The film that starts out by representing the involvement of family and neighbours in Indian society in caring attitudes to the disabled, makes concessions to commercial cinema leaning on formulaic approaches through songs, dance sequences and the love triangle. The theme of disability is fixed within quintessential Bollywood representational codes, patriarchal codes in my reading of their signification.

The Disabled as Masculine Hero

Koi Mil Gaya, ('I found someone'), a film that was a major box-office success, is a good example of the processes through which patriarchal social values reclaim the film's nucleus of the mentally challenged. Rohit, a mentally retarded boy with an adult body, has been brought up and goes to school, largely through the support and sacrifices of his mother. His dead father's scientific experiments to communicate with possible living beings in outer space creates a parallel text in the film. As much as Rohit's retardation and peculiarities of physique, behaviour and language, rated as sub-normal behaviour or madness even, the entity that is the alien called Jadoo, misunderstood, maligned and hounded by various masculinities in one film, is relegated to the world of the 'other'.

Neha, Rohit's girl friend who has championed him in the face of the aggressive masculinity of the neighbourhood gang of males, is gradually deflected from her empathy towards his condition, endorsing conventional social values. She even declares in a dialogue with Rohit that she too would want "a physically and mentally strong partner", obliterating the value of Rohit's struggles, year after year, to pass and be promoted to a higher class in school.

Gravitating towards the pulls of mainstream cinema, the endowing film picks up on the Bollywood (and Hollywood) genre of the super-hero, endorsing Rohit with magical powers of mobility and strength, (infused by Jadoo) as his body metamorphoses into that of a gorgeous hunk and his body language too is claimed by a normative masculinity.

The influence of films like Spielberg's ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind predominant in Koi Mil Gaya demonstrate the tremendous power of the globalization of cinema, to deflect the social mission of films on disability, further strengthening the genre of the Bollywood 'masala' movie.



A homogenized understanding of disability in the Indian context, in my view, must necessarily precede the specific interpretation of the representations of autism in Indian cinema.

Filmakers in India have already begun to engage more seriously with the issue of disability as the recent films in Hindi cinema such as Koi Mil Gaya , Tera Mera Saath Rahen , Main Aisa Hi Hoon , Black , and Iqbal illustrate. Given the potential of mainstream, popular cinema to sensitize the masses to an awareness of the nature of specific disabilities and the challenges they pose, mainstream cinema must steer clear of replicating the conservative and normative masculinist values of Indian society that work against the progressive liberation of minorities with differences. The filmmaker's role will be to remove biases and stigma against the disabled, correcting superstitious and illiterate attitudes that read disability as a ‘curse', or as 'madness', correcting popular perceptions and stereotypes, by representing the disabled with understanding, sympathy, dignity and conviction.

The understanding of the specific cognitive disorder of autism as a disability is only in an emergent stage in India , as far as mainstream cinema is concerned. As such, its representation in cinema is mediated through the agency of Hollywood, as the Indian cultural adaptation and remaking of I am Sam in Main Aisa Hi Hoon manifests. Despite the film maker's attempt to highlight autism through the physical, behavioural and communicative dimensions of Neel, the framework of masculinity that governs attitudes to the autistic, limits the impact of the film.

Both Rathnam and Manjrekar's films reveal the emotional damage to the autistic when the world ' pagal ' is reiterated, or when the person with a disability is treated like a lunatic who can therefore be ridiculed, spurned, victimised and finally rejected as a human being. Through the effort of the two film makers to write back a new text of more open social attitudes through counter-discourse and the agency of songs is a beginning, the need to create 'heroes' out of the autistics or the disabled subverts the real social agenda of creating awareness about the range of disabilities that cluster under autism.

Anjali and Main Aisa Hi Hoon , both bring to the foreground depictions of the developmental 'lag' in the mentally challenged and the autistic in the areas of cognition, communication, social skills, and dysfunctional behaviours (including repetitive behaviour). Given a stimulating environment and consistent support through the love of family members the films project the enhancement of social skills and the improvement in cognitive functions (but not necessary learning skills). Anjali graduates from forms of behaviour marked by fear and withdrawal, to bonding with family and the children's 'gang' largely due to the affection and acceptance of her siblings and their role as facilitators for her passage into the wider world. The transition is two-way, with the children ceasing to treat Anjali with contempt as a ‘pagal', (a construction of madness evident when they tie empty tin cans to her foot), making her part and parcel of their world. Anjali too breaks out of her closed self and temperamental behaviour to respond to their love, initiating connection with each one of them.

The proliferation of the new social discourse about disability needs to be preceded by an uprooting of the conservative attitudes and stereotypes of madness. Labelling a person with disability who does not fit into norms of physique, intelligence or communication as a ' pagal ' in the Indian context is the way most ready-to-hand, to reject the disabled and make them outcastes. Since there is no clear picture of the nature of autism, representations of the autistic tend to overlap with other categories of the mentally challenged such as the mentally ill or mentally retarded. This assimilation of the autistic is a further threat (along with the problematic of the disorder itself) to the representation of autism in Indian cinema.

Films on autism, an only partially understood mysterious developmental disorder, need to carry a responsible referentiality to current medical and scientific researches, inducing hope rather than fear in the viewers. Representations of the autistic, their families, doctors and institutions need to consciously steer clear of sentimental and melodramatic populist projections. In this context, the influence of Hollywood on 'Bollywood' in contemporary films on disability need to be critiqued – both for a masculinist culture being propagated and the fact that these films may lead to alienating fantasies of ideal solutions within the more affluent settings and resources of the developed world. More in-cultural depictions of disability spanning various social classes, homing in on the challenges and attitudinal biases to be resolved in specific situations, would be the desired intervention of the humanities and arts in the sphere of reinscribing ability.

In a society where many Indian males (according to specialists in the field of disability) continue to find great difficulty in accepting a child with disability, regarding it a visible projection of the 'failure' of the father's masculinity, all forms of disability can gain greater acceptance only when a critical mass of the educated is created. It is this mass that can interrogate the limitations of a patriarchal perspective on disability and an intellectual 'closure' on the subject.



Anjali ("Offering"): 1990, Director : Mani Ratnam, Cast : Raghuvaran, Revathi, Baby Shamili, Master Tarun. [The story of a mentally challenged girl child reclaimed by her family].

Black: 2004, Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Cast: Rani Mukherjee, Amitabh Bachchan [A film about a girl Michelle who has visual, hearing and speech impairment and her special relationship with her teacher. Michelle's reunion with her teacher after he is hospitalized for Alzheimer's, poignantly establishes the reversal of roles].

Dosti, ("Friendship"): 1964, Director: Satyen Bose, Cast : Sushil Kumar, Sudhir Kumar. [A story of two teenage boys, Ramu and Mohan, one lame and the other visually impaired who strike up a deep friendship].

Iqbal : 2005, Director: Nagesh Kukoonoor, Cast: Shreyas Talpade, Naseeruddin Shah, Shweta Prasad, Girish Karnad [About a teenage boy who has hearing and visual imairment, and fulfils his ambition of playing professional cricket].

Khamoshi ("Silence"): 1996, Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Cast : Seema Biswas, Nana Patekar, Manisha Koirala, Salman Khan, Helen. [The story of a hearing and speech impaired couple and their talented singer daughter's efforts to communicate her music to her parents especially].

Koi Mil Gaya ("I Found Someone"): 2003, Director : Rakesh Roshan, Cast : Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Rekha, Rajat Bedi. [The film narrates the story of a mentally challenged boy empowered by an alien named Jadoo].

Koshish, ("Effort"): 1972, Director : Gulzar, Cast : Sanjeev Kumar, Jaya Bhaduri. [a story of the struggles of a hearing and speech impaired husband and wife].

Main Aisa Hi Hoon ("I Am Just Like This"): 2005, Director : Harry Baweja, Cast: Ajay Devgan, Esha Deol, Sushmita Sen, Rucha Vaidya [Narrates the story of an autistic father and his young daughter].

Nache Mayuri ("Mayuri dances"): 1986, Director: T. Rama Rao, Cast : Sudha Chandran [the film narrates the real-life story of Chandran, who despite the amputation of her leg from the knee downwards, takes up dance again and makes a comeback].

Sparsh ("The Touch"): 1984, Director: Sai Paranjape, Cast : Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi [the film revolves around the principal of a school for the visually impaired who seeks dignity for the disabled rather than pity].

Tera Mera Saath Rahen ("May You and I Be Together”): 2004, Writer - Director Mahesh Manjrekar, Cast: Ajay Devgan, Dushyant Wagh, Sonali Bendre, Namrata Shirodkar. [The story of two brothers in which the younger one who has cerebral palsy is cared for by the elder].


Works Cited

Gabriel, Karen. "Designing Desire: Gender in Mainstream Bombay Cinema," Translating Desire : The Politics of Gender and Culture in India, ed Brinda Bose. New Delhi : Katha, 2002.

Ghai, Anita, "Disability in the Indian Context: Post-Colonial Perspectives," Disability / Postmodernity: Embodying disability theory ed Mairian Corker and Tom Shakespeare, London : Continuum, 2002.

Jain, Jasbir and Sudha Rai ed. Films and Feminism: Essays in Indian Cinema. Jaipur and New Delhi : Rawat Publications, 2002.

Kaufman, Michael. "Men, Feminism and Men's Contradictory Experiences of Power," Theorizing Masculinities ed Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman, London : Sage Publications, 1994.

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan ed. Signposts: Gender Issues in Post-Independence India . New Delhi : Kali for Women, 2000 (f.p. 1999)

Vijayan, P.K. "Outline for an Exploration of Hindutva Masculinities" Translating Desire: The Politics of Gender and Culture in India, ed Brinda Bose New Delhi : Katha, 2002.



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