Bollywood is usually known for over-the-top screen representations. Whether it is the depiction of the queer community or people belonging to certain communities, the Hindi film industry has stuck to disappointing stereotypes. The same stands true for the movies which show characters with mental health issues or even intellectual disabilities.
However, every once in a while, there comes a filmmaker who essays a character that not only strays from the stereotypes but seems very close to a real person. Let’s take a look at some Hindi movies that have presented a person with autism well on the silver screen.
One of the first depictions of autism in Hindi cinema came in the form of the 1990 Tamil dubbed movie directed by Mani Ratnam. Given the time, the title character was called mentally challenged. Her father first passed her off as a stillborn child, keeping her away from the family for long before the family found out and brought her home. Themes like sibling rivalry, bullying, social acceptance, more are brilliantly wound into this story that ends on a tragic note.
My Name Is Khan
The most mainstream and successful of the movies on this list, it has King Khan playing an autistic adult. While the story revolves around the tribulations of a Muslim man in post 9/11 USA, his autism steers it forward. As his condition was one of the main motifs of the film, a lot of research seems to have gone into the portrayal of a man with high-functioning autism. It ended up being a refreshingly sensitive and accurate depiction, too.
This one had multiple disabilities being portrayed in one movie, with Ranbir Kapoor playing a hearing-impaired person and Priyanka Chopra an autistic. The condition and the person having it were explored in a way that familiarized viewers with the inner workings of the mind of an autistic person, giving them a multifaceted outlook of the person as a whole. Chopra’s portrayal was so impressive that The Forum for Autism (FFA) approached her to become their brand ambassador.
This 1999 movie had Irrfan Khan and Shobana playing parents of a child with autism. Their marriage suffers due to their son’s condition which makes them agree to subject him to the controversial “brain booster” treatment. Directed by Kaushik Roy, himself the father of an autistic child, the film deals with the struggles of the parents of a special needs child very sensitively. It ends with the message of accepting the children’s condition and working together to improve things for them.
Main Aisa Hi Hoon
Another movie with the leading man being autistic was this Ajay Devgn starrer where he plays a single father to his daughter. His deceased wife’s family wants to take away the child, deeming him an unfit father and a custody battle ensues. The film has not aged well in terms of dialogue and screenplay; it’s full of typical Bollywood cliches and melodrama. However, Ajay’s performance had been praised and it led to the improvement in public conception regarding people with intellectual disabilities.
While this may be a shortlist, here’s hoping for some more quality content, with well fleshed out characters that talk about autism again in Bollywood. The wait may not be much longer as Amir Khan is all set to portray an autistic man in his next, adaptation of Forrest Gump. Looking at how his movie Taare Zameen Par steered the conversation towards learning disabilities, we can only hope more people become aware of the condition.