An unsound trend in Mollywood

Malayalam cinema is a treasure trove of presentations of psychotic disorders. The themes include a wide range of contents — rich in portrayal of psychiatric disorders, personality traits, and therapies. Stereotypical, negative, and inaccurate portrayals of the illness, however, are feared to stigmatise the people with such disorders.

Mental illness has been portrayed in numerous Malayalam films, from Yakshi (1968) to Nee-Na (2015). Commercial success of movies Thalavattam (1986), Ulladakkam (1991), Manichithrathazhu (1993), Thanmatra (2005) and many others that have psychological themes is not because of their scientific accuracy, say psychiatrists who have been involved in the study of media representation of psychological disorders.

“Malayalam cinema is rich in portrayals of mental illnesses. A large number of movies have presented many types of psychiatric disorders in characters,” says Badr Ratnakaran, who co-authored two papers published in the latest issue of Kerala Journal of Psychiatry of the Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS), Kerala branch. Despite the rich portrayals of mental illness, the majority do not have a scientifically credible portrayal, he says.

Review of 130 movies

The papers review over 130 Malayalam movies released over the decades to analyse depictions of psychiatric disorders and examine the portrayal of suicide, grief, stigma, and stereotypes of illnesses and treatments. Dr. Ratnakaran, who co-authored the paper with psychiatrists S. Sethulakshmi Anil, Subin Thomas, and Sherin Daniel Ampanattu, told The Hindu that the psychological content in the Malayalam cinema is so rich that it can be used as a teaching module.

The psychiatrists’ concern is that films like Manichitrathazhu and Kilukkam (1991) are depictions that further the prejudices that the audience already harbour about the mentally ill.

“Moviemakers in the State generally do not have a culture of consulting experts in the field of psychiatry even when they make movies having psychological themes,” said C.J. John, former president of the IPS-Kerala, who wrote Malayalam film reviews for the now defunct Malayalam magazine Manashasthram . Comical portrayal of mental disorders often hurts and causes shame to patients, Dr. John noted.

According to the psychiatrists, Thanmatra , Anantaram (1987), Spirit (2012), North 24 Katham (2013), and Nee-Na (2015) are some films where the portrayal of mental illnesses is more or less scientifically sound. Memories (2013) depicts treatment of alcohol dependence with gradual weaning off from alcohol, which, they say, is a method that is mostly ineffective and not usually recommended. In Thalavattom (1986), the protagonist is diagnosed with schizophrenia, but does not display any of its symptoms. Manichithrathazhu (1993) depicts trance and possession states in the female lead but her condition is stated wrongly as a state of psychosis, they add.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 2:27:04 PM |

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