Monday, November 28, 2016

Dear Zindagi ……. A Therapist's Perspective

Dear Zindagi …….
          A Therapist's Perspective

Indian Cinema has matured over the years, and certain topics which were taboo, are openly and sensitively addressed through movies. Mental health has been one such topic which has always been shrouded in stigma, shame and embarrassment. Add to that, the depiction of mental illness in our mainstream cinema, has been less than sensitive, to put it mildly. Along came Tare Zameen Par, a few years back, a movie which boldly addressed the issue of Learning Disabilities. Other movies that addressed mental illness followed – My Name is Khan, Barfi, and so on.
Dear Zindagi is yet another bold and beautiful step forward in this direction. Bold, because it does not address mental illness. Rather, it takes a look at deep seated issues that each of us seemingly ‘normal’ people carry around us, how we allow these past patterns and issues to influence our behavior and decisions, and most importantly, how therapy is not just ‘for the crazy’! Beautiful, because of the sensitivity and poignancy with which it is written, directed, and executed by the lead actors.
The movie makers have done their research well. We see Kaira’s (Alia Bhatt) character emerging right from the outset – her restlessness, her constant search for something, her relationship issues, her problems with parents. Slowly how she moves toward therapy, her building trust on her therapist Dr. Jehangir Khan (SRK), the catharsis of her emotional trauma, and its resolution – all of this is depicted in a flowing manner.
The movie has many poignant moments, that, from a therapist’s point of view, do immense good for erasing the stigma associated with counseling and psychotherapy:
·      Kaira’s friend, openly stating that he has to leave for an appointment with his DD (Dimaag ka Doctor). On being asked, is he crazy, he counters, isn’t everyone a little crazy? Bravo!
·      Kaira asking this friend whether he is going for therapy to be able to tell the world that he is gay. Her friend’s reply, “No, it’s to be able to tell myself that I am gay.” So many of us find it hard to accept parts of ourselves, and so important it is to accept yourself before expecting the same from the world.
·      Kaira overhearing discussions from a mental awareness conference, where pertinent questions such as, “how do I know whether I need to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist?”. So very pertinent, as many people are truly lost as to whom they need to see for their issues.
·      Kaira’s maid, expressing surprise that there are doctors that deal with your emotional issues and her statement, “then all of us need to visit such a doctor”, showing her wisdom and understanding.
·      Kaira’s initial awkwardness when she comes for her first session, she is almost about to bolt from there. How her guard is initially up, and how she presents her issue as that of her friend’s, and how eventually she lets her guard down and begins trusting the therapist.
·      The therapist’s use of stories and fables, in the initial stages of therapy, to get the client to see a difficult situation with sudden clarity. When he winds up his seemingly ridiculous story of Popatlal the mountaineer, with the conclusion, “sometimes we think we HAVE to choose a difficult path. But we very well have the choice to go for the easy one, especially when we don’t have the resources to deal with the difficult one”, it’s like an A-ha moment to Kaira. He doesn’t have to even relate it to her situation overtly, she does it all by herself. The very premise of therapy is clients can help themselves, all they need is a supportive environment. I felt this scene brought it out very beautifully. Armed with this knowledge, she takes the decision that she was struggling with at that point in time.
·      Often, we get bogged down by what we think people will think about us, and this stops us from leading our lives the way we want to. Dr. Jehangir’s innocuous question, “who are all these people who are watching you all the time” helps us see this angle as well. How he slowly guides Kaira to take steps toward self-love and self-acceptance is subtly but heart rendingly depicted.
·      Kaira’s final confrontation with her childhood trauma, and her resultant fears of abandonment. Years of practice have only gone on to show me that childhood traumas, whether real or perceived, remain frozen in our personalities, and guide and shape our decisions and behaviorus all the time. The way this happens with Kaira , how she finally faces it with an emotional showdown with her parents, and later, in the therapy session, is often, how things do happen in therapy. And when a client finally manages to break down the self-inflicted walls and shutters, and allows himself to fully experience those feelings, it is beautiful to watch the gradual dissolution of the client’s sorrow. Giving clients space at that time is all a therapist needs to do, and that is exactly what Dr. Jehangir does. He allows her to cry, vent, talk, without any intervention on his part.
·      It also brings out the issues of transference, when a client feels dependent on the therapist and may at times confuse this attachment for romantic feelings. The way he wards off this without compromising her dignity is a joy to watch.
·      And last, but not the least. Many times, when clients finish therapy, or a particularly difficult session, when the frozen emotions thaw and the real personality starts emerging, clients experience an immense sense of gratitude for the therapist. In that moment, many clients, regardless of gender, will want to give the therapist a hug. That is what Kaira spontaneously does at the end of her last session. For the way SRK has handled that hug, his expressions, his body language is so completely that of a therapist; for that alone, SRK, saat khoon maaf! I forgive you your Fan, your Happy New Year, your Ra One, just for that one scene!
Sure, the movie is not without its flaws. For instance, the way SRK analyses her trauma and concludes about how it has affected her, is not how a therapist would do. As I have said earlier, it is for the client to apply the learnings to his situation. Also, he does engage in a lot of advise giving, which again, a therapist would refrain from. Lastly, his unconventional means (taking sessions on a beach, on a bicycle) would probably not go down well with most therapists. But these flaws, I think, are forgivable under the name of cinematic license. On the whole, the movie does a fair amount of justice to the spirit of therapy, and for that alone, kudos to the entire team of Dear Zindagi!