Movies

A message through ‘Cycology’

Rohan Sabharwal, filmmaker and co-founder of CraYon Impact

Rohan Sabharwal, filmmaker and co-founder of CraYon Impact

It took nearly 20 years for Rohan Sabharwal to understand what’s happening with his life and open up about his mental health issues. At 17, he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. By 28, doctors said he had bipolar disorder and at 35, he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. “It was only after 35 I finally started talking about it; because that was when I was hospitalised and getting proper medical treatment. All the years before, everyone was in denial,” says Sabharwal. But it was a cycle that changed this Mumbai-based filmmaker’s life. So much so that the 37-year-old completed a 2,100 km cycling expedition from Maharashtra covering Goa, Kerala and Karnataka in February this year and is raring to set off for another three other journeys this year — with an ultimate aim to spread awareness on mental health issues. Today, Sabharwal has teamed with Bombay Berlin Film Productions to film his journey as he pedals across villages and cities in India. The feature length documentary on his trip called Spreading Cycology will be released on October 10, World Mental Health Day. One of the TEDx speakers at GITAM University last week, Sabharwal shared his journey through battling bipolar disorder with Metroplus .

A change

Before cycling happened, Sabharwal’s mood swings would come unannounced; there were moments of intense breakdown; a helpless feeling of not being in control of his mind — some lasted all night and some only for a few minutes. But in those moments, life would turn upside down for Sabharwal. Cycling brought about a gradual change in him. “I started riding the cycle sometime in December last year. Initially, I thought it would be one of those things that I would use a couple of times and then get over with,” says Sabharwal, who also co-founded of Crayon Impact, a social enterprise working in the fields of disability, mental health and gender. Soon, the cycle came to his rescue in countering insomnia. He started cycling from midnight and would return in the early hours of the day. “I would feel really tired after that and that helped me a lot in overcoming my insomnia. The first time I came back after cycling 100 km, I had an eight-hour long sleep — something I missed for a long time,” he says. He realised cycling was helping him physically and mentally; he was burning calories, had started eating healthier and could sleep well at night while his stress levels came down. “Whether I am sad, angry or overjoyed, cycling has tremendously helped in stabilising those heightened emotions and I just get back home and crash. I used to have a breakdown once every two days earlier. When I was on my cycling trip, I just had this one moment of instability and had a breakdown. It has been a month and half now since then,” he explains.

Sabharwal’s documentary will feature his experiences and interactions during the cycling expedition. “The film will include stories about the people I meet, the ground realities in villages with no facility for medical care or mental illnesses and my interactions with NGOs working in the field in these different villages,” he explains. His cycling journeys brought up an alarming scenario that plagues medical aid for mental illnesses. “I have got 15 different stories from different States during my first cycling trip. In Maharashtra, the situation has a lot to do with poverty. In Kerala, it is alcohol abuse that leads to mental illnesses. But what most people fail to understand is that mental illness is not just about a biological medical condition like retardation. There is a common myth that depression is mere sadness. This is not the case. Depression can devastate a life,” says the cyclist. In Maharashtra, he realised, several villages lacked basic medical support, leave alone care for mental illness. Even a place like Mazagaon, which is so close to Mumbai, had no medical health hospitals or institutes or NGOs working there. During his first cycling expedition, Sabharwal provided his support to 20 projects in small rural belts to address mental illness issues. Speaking about his personal experiences in battling mental illness, he says, “Medication is really important. We demonise psychiatrists. People don’t understand the human mind and mental health complexities. We have a generation that doesn’t accept or understand depression. My dad thought that everything that is going wrong in my life was because of certain habits I had. I am happy that my parents have come out of that notion.”

Gathering stories

After gathering stories from remote corners of states during his first cycling expedition, Sabharwal now plans to undertake three other journeys this year — to Visakhapatnam and Pondicherry; to Kolkata via Madhya Pradesh, and to Chandigarh via Gujarat and Rajasthan.

His 90-minute film Spreading Cycology will be about his journey through India and his own experiences. “We are approaching people to raise funds to screen it in film festivals. Also, there needs to be a call to action. So there will be numbers flashing on the screen at different points in the film so that viewers can reach out and offer help,” says the filmmaker. The film will be multilingual with subtitles. Bombay Berlin Film Productions is taking the trailer of the film to various film festivals across the globe including Berlin, Cannes and Hotdocs (Canadian International Documentary Film Festival).


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Printable version | Jun 29, 2022 11:01:11 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/a-message-through-cycology/article17893132.ece