World Autism Awareness Day 2019: Five Bollywood films that depicted autism

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The contemporary age of Bollywood saw filmmakers experimenting with themes that are otherwise rarely acknowledged. Such themes often challenge various stereotypes existing in the society associated with daily life or with any section of people. Over the past few years, Bollywood has taken various efforts to throw light upon the lives of very special individuals resulting in the birth of specially challenged characters.

On the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month, BizAsialive.com looks back at five Bollywood films that depicted autism through its characters.

‘Koi… Mil Gaya’ (2003) – Considered as one of the initial science fiction film in Bollywood, this was the highest grossing movie of the then year. Directed by Rakesh Roshan, this alien visitation film also bagged the National Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues. The film stars Hrithik Roshan in the lead role as the autistic protagonist Rohit Mehra, who later befriends an alien and gains psychokinetic gifts from it. Alongside the theme of fantasy, the film constantly highlights how differently able individuals are often ridiculed and bullied by peers and the society. Through various sequences the film urges audiences to accept such special people with love and kindness.

‘Main Aisa Hi Hoon’ (2005) – The Bollywood adaptation of the renowned Hollywood drama I Am Sam (2001), traced the journey of Indraneel played by Ajay Devgn. Neel is a single autistic father who dotes on his daughter Gungun. He engages in a custody battle with the child’s grandfather as he claims her custody on the grounds of Neel’s incapability. Although the film failed to garner critical acclaim, it did send across a beautiful message that essayed how specially challenged people are capable of love and compassion.

‘Yuuvraaj’ (2008) – Anil Kapoor’s characterisation in this film is loosely based on the iconic Hollywood film Rain Man (1998). Kapoor plays a musical genius Gyanesh and though the term is never outwardly referred in the movie, it is quite evident from the actions of the character that he has autism. It is one of the few films in Bollywood that explored the idea of autistic savants or autistic people possessing extraordinary talents and specialities.

‘My Name Is Khan’ (2010) – Yet another highly acclaimed film, Karan Johar’s record breaking hit starred Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in lead roles. Khan’s character Rizwan is said to be suffering from Asperger’s syndrome since birth which is a mild form of autism spectrum disorder. The film explores various important themes in the light of the 9/11 attack. Khan brilliantly breathed life into the socially and verbally impaired Rizwan which earned him worldwide applaud.

‘Barfi!’ (2012) – Anurag Basu’s comedy-drama was not only one of the most critically and commercially successful film of that year but also India’s official entry for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ nomination in the 85th Academy Award. Priyanka Chopra played the autistic Jhilmil, who finds love in her sole companion, the deaf-mute Barfi, played by Ranbir Kapoor. The film beautifully etched out a slice from the daily lives of autistic people & essayed various layers of their feelings through Jhilmil’s journey. So intricate and effortless was Chopra’s portrayal of the character that The Forum for Autism (FFA) approached her to be the ambassador of their campaign.

As the knowledge about autism is relatively low in the country, here’s hoping Bollywood, with its massive audience reach, successfully contribute in spreading more awareness about the condition in days to come.

– Varsha Roy

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