This World Disability Day, we looked back at five memorable characters in films on disability… and reflect upon what we can seek from them.
‘The International Day of People with Disability’, ever since United Nations put it on the global calendar, falls on December 3 every year, and unlike its predecessor of two days, the World Aids Day, goes largely unnoticed in our part of the world.
Issues related to disability need not make it to mainstream news and discussions only after cases of discrimination or crimes, for we Indians have good reason to talk about and get sensitized to some facts. Facts such as the 70-100 million disabled citizens of our country.
Without any more statistical details to intimidate you, here we present our favourite picks of film characters; those who’re not necessarily disabled themselves, but have given away a crucial lesson or two through their films. Beware, this list is only indicative and post year 2000, for a fresher recall. For best results, call your local DVD parlour and revisit these masterpieces.
1. Jean Dominique – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Lauded as one of the greatest films on disability of all time, this Belgian drama is the true story of the extraordinary life of French magazine editor Jean Dominique, who suffers a stroke and finds himself ‘trapped in’ a completely paralysed body – but for his left eye.
Jean’s character, who is grappling through the film to accomplish and publish a book simply by batting his eyelid to communicate with his people, is one of the most inspiring ones you’ll see on screen. His therapist is an epitome of patience too, for reciting the entire alphabet repeatedly to wait for his ‘blink’.
Jean managed to write, edit and published his book.. and in the process also brought together his ex and current lovers, aged father and children. He died days after publishing it. The lesson: impossible is nothing!
2. Joseph Braganza – Khamoshi
Closer home, we dare not leave out one of Bollywood’s most endearing disabled characters – Nana Patekar’s Goan man of the musical Khamoshi. Credit to his incredible acting or to director Bhansali for etching out an in-depth character, but truth is that Mr Braganza taught many of us how to emote, and that there is no such thing as too much emotion.
Braganza, a deaf father and husband amidst tough domestic relationships, introduced the masses to the charms of the Indian Sign Language. That said, he also let his eyes do the talking… and crying too, bucketfuls of it.
Next time you see your child achieve/lose anything, be sure to let them tears flow like nobody’s watching. It’s a therapy that will win you many friends, and bring you closer to yourself!
3. Driss – The Intouchables
Earlier this year, a French film about a quadriplegic man and his relationship with his caretaker fleeted by our urban theatres, and chances are that you might’ve not heard of it at all.
Driss is a broke black man newly hired by an aristocrat for his personal upkeep as he has quadriplegia. The former, simply by being his brash, unapologetic and casual self, wins over the heart of his boss and others; and embarks upon many self-discovering adventures too. Like the Diving Bell, this one’s a true story too!
The lesson – you need not study protocol or think twice before interacting or forming new equations with disabled persons. A healthy dose of humour, friendship – even if insensitive – is preferable over ignorance.
So much has been written and talked about Ranbir Kapoor’s portrayal of a deaf character that we thought it won’t be worth featuring it here; but testing your retention capacities is worth it!
It’s a fact that unlike Barfi, most men with verbal or auditory impairments lack the panache and confidence to begin conversations with strangers or make the mischief he does in the film. But the point to be taken here is – they can be as flirtatious, friendly or conniving as any guy next door. Bring them out of their shell, using sign language is a good hook to do so!
Besides, thanks to some responsible film making, we learnt through Barfi that mockery or sympathy have no place in interactions with disabled persons.
5. Nikumbh sir – Taare Zameen Par
Finally, we must invoke our man Aamir’s character in the 2007 film to wind up this list. Firstly, here was a ‘hero’ of Indian cinema who’s not into daredevilry, but is a simple, passionate teacher. Nikumbh sir, through his sensitive attitude and body language in class (we saw much of that in Aamir Khan himself in Satyamev Jayate this year), won over the hearts of many.
Perhaps the most impact this pretty old-fashioned teacher with new values had was in the scenes when he roars at parents of the autistic child for being regressive. His words were lessons in parenting to many – especially to those who see their children as ‘investments’ – ready to push them into the most ‘lucrative’ fields.
Respecting each child’s uniqueness and abilities, whether he/she’s disabled or not, was Nikumbh sir’s biggest lesson, which is worth re-visiting regularly in India!
(An initiative of Trinayani, a nonprofit NGO founded by Ritika Sahni, the THIS ABILITY articles celebrates the intriguing lives of persons with disabilities. Trinayani works towards Disability Awareness and Support, communicating through workshops/seminars, print, radio, films and other electronic media. Visit www.trinayani.org or write to us at email@example.com)
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