OTT recently threw up two surprisingly sensitive, sincere depictions of mental health.
The first one was Kapil Sharma’s “I’m Not Done Yet”, a one-man standup show. I watched it with some trepidation, because a cis man’s idea of humour has always been to mock those less powerful than him. But it’s nice to see that #KapilSharma has taken his lessons from Hannah Gatsby’s Nanette. #ImNotDoneYet is a ‘non-comedy’, wryly funny sketch where Kapil, unlike his usual TV self, consistently punches up. He takes on Modi, he talks about his depression, his sessions with his therapist, is thoughtful, empathetic and grown up. There are no transphobic, ableist, misogynistic jokes, just Kapil talking companionably about his life, his relationship with his father, his children, making us laugh and cry and root for him. Kapil Sharma is not done yet and this by far has been one of his most important contributions to the world of standup comedy in India.
It is a milestone event that he used this platform to speak about his mental health. Coming from a world of Punjabi gabru jawan machismo, this would go a long way in normalising cis men seeking professional help for mental health.
The other, even more important story told was #Bhoothakalam on #SonyLiv. The story of a mother and son who seem to be living in a haunted house. I use the phrase ‘seem to be’ because both mother and son are clinically depressed. And of course, as society would have it, depressed people, people with mental health issues cannot be trusted with articulating their experiences nor are they given agency over their lives and bodies. We see Asha (played by #Revathi, giving a masterclass in acting), a single mother, who has just lost her own aged mother after being her caregiver for god knows how long. We see all the signs of caregiver burnout- her acute psychological distress at the passing of her mother, her heartrending, disturbingly loud sobbing night after claustrophobic night, her pallid skin, her body language one of someone barely going through the motions of existing. If the nights are unending and dismal, incongruously by day, Asha is a kindergarten/nursery school teacher who is constantly pulled-up for being too morose around small children. Asha’s son Vinu is an unemployed youth who also clearly has mental health issues, but is known as a ‘prandu’ or mad one. Trapped in a toxic, codependent relationship with his mother, not being able to communicate with her or his girlfriend or his friend, Vinu is on a downward spiral of depression and paranoia. With little or no support, it takes both sick people to somehow find the courage to come together and cross over to the threshold of the living.
Imagine having a middle-aged mentally ill woman as the heroine of your film and to get the magnificent Revathi essay the role, I am so glad to be alive to witness this. Bhoothakalam relies heavily on Revathi’s finely-honed craftsmanship, it wouldn’t have been half the film it is without her. It’s her face that the camera constantly seeks to portray horror, courage, compassion, hate, love, despair.
Towards the end, Asha signals to her son Vinu to hand her the keys so they may leave their house. It’s such a profoundly symbolic representation of a mentally ill woman seizing her power, opening the door that kept them trapped in an unhealthy situation.
I hope both shows will set the trend for more honest empathetic conversations on how we view those with mental illnesses.