How Hindi films tarnish the image of psychiatrists
Ek Thi Daayan, a horror film with supernatural content, was released in April 2013. The protagonist in this motion picture believes that his stepmother is a daayan (witch), who is eventually shown to kill his sister. His father dies of a cardiac arrest on seeing that his wife has turned into a witch and killed his daughter. The psychiatrist (strangely named Dr Palit) he consults looks upon his experiences as hallucinations, the origins of which can be traced to a book on witchcraft that he believes in and has been reading ardently. All through the film, the psychiatrist counters the protagonist’s belief in the existence of ghosts and witches, and is successful in his efforts. However, towards the end of the film, he realises that evil spirits do exist. He now feels that the content of the book on witchcraft is valid and is convinced that the protagonist’s life is in danger. Alas, he succumbs to death.
Of late, a character in the mould of a ‘psychiatrist’ has been commonly appearing in a number of Hindi films dealing with the supernatural or paranormal. In most such films, the psychiatrist’s medical and scientific explanation of the sufferer’s symptoms is jeopardised and proven wrong, while the exorcist’s magico-religious elucidation of the causation of the symptoms and the treatment he administers are shown to be correct and in keeping with the obvious truth. This theme has appeared in a host of films during the past decade. Such films include Banaras (2006), Bhoot (2003), Darling (2007), Hawa (2003), Hum Tum Aur Ghost (2010), I See You (2006), Naina (2005), Phoonk (2008) and Talaash (2012).
A recent study concluded that the portrayal of psychiatrists in Hindi films of late has been rather unflattering and leaves a lot to be desired (1). The phenomenon is apparently global as the depiction of the psychiatrist in commercial American films is equally disheartening (2). As long as the cinematic representation of psychiatrists is healthy, the inclusion of a ‘psychiatrist’ character in films with supernatural content is justified. Sadly, however, the fact of the matter is that most such films denigrate the dignity of the psychiatrist’s profession. Sorcery, witchcraft and mysticism conveniently supersede the psychiatrist’s rational and scientific reasoning and/or interventions. These celluloid psychiatrists end up convinced that ghosts do exist, making real psychiatrists wish to call all such Hindi films daayans (pun intended) that knowingly or unknowingly distort their image. Notwithstanding the argument that films are meant to entertain and not educate audiences, a demeaning portrayal of psychiatric professionals is downright preposterous. As it is, psychiatry as a branch of medicine and psychiatrists as professionals have a somewhat dubious image in the eyes of health professionals, the general public, decision-makers in the health sector and students in various areas of healthcare (3). The prejudiced portrayals in films may only add to their existing woes. These portrayals are likely to have an impact on the attitudes and beliefs of those who have not known a psychiatrist first-hand for a long enough time to form their own opinion, an opinion that is independent of the image depicted in films (2).
Considering their widespread popularity and easy accessibility, films could instead be used judiciously to reduce the stigma attached to the profession by depicting psychiatrists in a more tasteful and accurate fashion. In this respect, films such as 15 Park Avenue (2005), Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) and Love Aaj Kal (2009) have done well to present the profession in a positive light, without compromising on their entertainment value. Likewise, Bhool-Bhulaiyaa (2007) explores a constructive possibility by depicting a healthy liaison between a psychiatrist and a faith healer. There is a need to extend censorship in cinema to ensure that films do not distort medical facts and make a mockery of the conduct of doctors and their profession.
Girish Banwari, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Sheth V.S. General Hospital, Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad, Gujarat INDIA e-mail: email@example.com
- Banwari GH. Portrayal of psychiatrists in Hindi movies released in the first decade of the 21st century. Asian J Psychiatr. 2011 Sep;4(3):210-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ajp.2011.07.001
- Gharaibeh NM. The psychiatrist’s image in commercially available American movies. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2005 Apr;111(4):316-19.
- Sartorius N, Gaebel W, Cleveland HR, Stuart H, Akiyama T, Arboleda- Flórez J, Baumann AE, Gureje O, Jorge MR, Kastrup M, Suzuki Y, Tasman A. WPA guidance on how to combat stigmatization of psychiatry and psychiatrists. World Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;9(3):131-44.