For Samir Sharma, schoolmate and actor, who died by suicide.
A woman met a kind, loving, intelligent, gifted, funny man, a Bollywood outsider on the verge of big things. They fell in love, started living together.
He said he was moody. His friends and family said: “Zara hatke hai, magar dil ka sachcha hai”.
He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He wasn’t convinced of this, but he knew something wasn’t right, so he took the prescribed medication. She arranged his doctor’s appointments, monitored his medication, else he would stop. He wanted her around constantly to feel safe. Within hours, he could go from clinging to her to screaming at her to leave.
Those days were tough, but outwardly the couple presented a good picture. They thought people wouldn’t understand.
This isn’t Rhea’s story; it’s mine.
I hadn’t been following hers. Then I happened to watch her interview. It hit home. This could’ve been me.
Fortunately, my story is happier. We married. He accepted his BD diagnosis and manages his own treatment. I had a depressive episode. We both started therapy.
We’ve been there for each other during our ups and downs. It is not always easy.
He is highly-acclaimed as a writer, has won awards, national and international.
We have the love and support of our friends and family. It turns out that we needn’t have worried about what they would think. Encouraged by us, several people have sought their own professional help.
This should be the norm. Instead, it’s the exception.
India had started making progress viz. de-mystifying and de-stigmatising mental health. And then, the witch-hunt began.
Let’s be clear. This is not journalism. It’s a horrific exhibition of people sinking increasingly lower in pursuit of TRPs, fueled by society’s voyeurism and voracious appetite for salacious sensationalism, deeply rooted in misogyny.
Overnight, everyone is a mental health expert, declaiming with conviction that mental health issues are fabricated by psychiatrists to make easy money, that because Sushant smiled and laughed, made future plans (apparently invented the FAU-G app), he couldn’t have had BD.
To them I say: it’s called ‘putting up a front’. Because of people like you.
Mental health issues are medical issues. They are manageable, treatable. Sufferers are capable of being productive members of society. Most don’t have the luxury or means of becoming ‘Devdas’. They shouldn’t feel ashamed or defective, or be hesitant to seek professional help for fear of judgment. Unfortunately, thousands of people will now feel just that, or think twice about being with someone with mental health issues.
Rhea’s only fault seems to be that she was an independent woman who fell in love with a well-known man with medical and substance abuse issues. They didn’t have the support of family. It ended in tragedy. We lost an amazing talent. She lost her partner. And then becomes a soft target for the country’s favourite trope: a scheming woman gets her claws into an innocent man, drugs him without his knowledge, uses and abuses him for her own (unknown) nefarious reasons.
Sushant was 34 years old, an intelligent, driven, talented man, who was aware of his issues and capable of making his own choices (including whom he wanted to share his medical history with). His independent agency has been thoroughly negated by self-appointed ‘warriors for justice’, a young woman and her family are being subjected to a media lynching not seen even with convicted terrorists.
Bollywood is not talking about conspiracy theories or the ‘raja beta – daayan’ narrative. As is common in a community of a large number of talented, artistic, intelligent people, the incidence of mental health issues is probably higher than the national average (which is 1 in 7). They stand stigmatized and vilified. And thanks to recent ludicrous remarks, demonised as members of some horrific den of iniquity where everyone is jacked up on drugs, and a random mafia goes around bumping off people.
I am not part of Bollywood. I am not from Mumbai. At best, I am a (once reluctant) Bollywood spouse.
I know these people – writers, directors, ADs, DOPs, technical crews, production assistants, musicians, junior artists, spot boys (hoping to become spot dada) – who make up 99% of Bollywood. I know actors, many of whom don’t even drink, let alone attend frenzied drug-fueled orgies.
A film set is indescribably boring. When my husband took my engineer father to see a shoot, he loved the technology. The actual process, he said, was marginally better than watching paint dry.
The people who work in Bollywood truly love what they do. That’s why they are there. Often, it is a thankless job, which pays peanuts. At the peak of their career, they’ll probably be known only within the fraternity. Yet they thrive on it, never stop talking about it – dissecting camera angles, direction choices, lighting details, script do’s and don’ts. Yawn…But I say with conviction that the hundreds of people involved in the making of every single movie or show are more focused on doing their jobs, fulfilling their creative visions, and putting food on their tables rather than scoring crack.
Undoubtedly, there is some recreational drug use, some more serious substance abuse issues. But these exist across professions and across cities in India. BTW, did you consume bhaang at Holi?
Why specifically target Bollywood?
Why create false, dangerous narratives about mental health?
Why say ‘hai bechara’ when Sanju went public about his drug addiction, but ‘vish-kanya’ to Rhea?
Could an industry which is drugged out of its mind produce the hours of content that has kept you entertained during the lockdown; could it have created India’s greatest soft power influence internationally?
Is the easiest way to distract people from actual issues to turn the entertainers into the entertainment?
As for the ’59 grams of ganja‘ – somewhere Naga Sadhus are saying “hold our chillums…”
(Sheebani is a cat parent, reader, trekkie, feminist, humanist. She just happens to be a lawyer.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.