The stock image of the mentally ill in Bollywood films has been one where the affected person who tears off his or her clothes, shrieks, laughs hysterically and is firmly labelled and ridiculed as “mad”. Thankfully, over the years better research and a more empathetic understanding of mental illnesses has led to some sensitively and powerfully delineated films on people with Asperger’s syndrome, autism and dyslexia among other learning disorders.
Perhaps one of the earliest films made around the subject of psychosis was Pagal (1940), where Dr. Vasant (Prithviraj Kapoor) tortures his wife. The legacy of mentally unsound and therefore harmful men continued and over the years one saw Agni Pariksha and Red Rose (1980) with Amol Palekar. In Pankaj Kapoor’s psychotic character in Khamosh (1985), he has a long-standing complex of being inferior to his more successful brother. But these kinds of roles were few and far between as lead actors did not venture into playing characters that might mar their ‘hero’ image. Until Shah Rukh Khan’s Baazigar (1992) and Darr (1993) became watershed films.
However, as early as 1967 Raat Aur D in explored Multiple Personality Disorder. Nargis who played the protagonist alternated between being Peggy, an uninhibited socialite by night fond of her drink and smoke, and transforming by day into the soft spoken, demure and abiding housewife. She won the National Award for this role. Other women who have stood out in characters with mental illnesses include Isha (Kajol) in Gupt (1997), Dr. Aarti Mahajan (Tisca Chopra) in Rahasya (2014), Urmila Matondkar in Kaun? (1990) are a few.
Shaitaan (1974) was originally considered to have Shatrughan Sinha play a split personality — of a good cop and a serial rapist. But later the script was changed to have him play twins in a double role. According to Manoj Bajpayee, in Rakeysh OmPrakash Mehra’s Aks (2001), the filmmaker wanted to show the impact of what would happen if the evil in a person were to be separated from his good. Because the two men — the good cop essayed by Amitabh Bachchan and the demented man played by Bajpayee — were intrinsically one and the same person.
The pathological liars, thieves and flirts have all popped up to entertain us in Bollywood films such as Basu Bhatt played by Faroukh Sheikh in Katha (1983), Govinda as Raj Malhotra in Kyon Ki Main Jhuth Nahin Bolta (2001) or Abhay Deol as Lucky in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008).
Then came the disturbing stories that stemmed from real life. Rajendra Jakkal, a student along with three of his collegemates systematically carried out gruesome killings between January 1976 and March 1977. They were apprehended and hanged. The unreleased Paanch (2001) was based on this incident. Kay Kay Menon who plays the lead antagonist Luke Morrison says, “When I read the script and got inputs about Luke Morrison, I surprised at myself at the continual change in Luke’s character. And out came the things that I didn’t know existed within me. I had to be genuinely evil. I was not play acting.” In the 1980s, Sriram Raghavan had made a docudrama on Raman Raghav, the real life paranoid schizophrenic serial killer in Bombay who murdered over 40 people in the 1960s. Anurag Kashyap made Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal based on this. Blood, gore and black magic have all played roles in Bollywood. From the high priest Rajguru in Amrit Manthan (1934) who dabbles in human sacrifice to the cross-dressing psychopath in Murder 2 (2011) played by Prashanth Narayan, there has been no holding back. Some other stand out killers were Tinnu Anand in Pushpak (1987) and Saswata Chaterjee as Bob Biswas in Kahaani (2012)