Men’s mental health has rarely been explored by movies with the sensitivity it deserves. Because the idea of a male protagonist breaking down, crying, and seeking help is more alien to mainstream cinema than the concept of aliens themselves.
But not with these films, where men’s mental health issues were granted the sensitivity and attention they deserve:
1. A Death in the Gunj
Easily one of the finest directorial debuts to have come out of Bollywood, A Death in the Gunj was a haunting portrayal of the far-reaching effects of apathy. In Shutu’s (easily Massey’s career milestone) inability to conform, or even come to terms with, the toxic masculinity (manifesting in the form of teasing and bullying) on display, the film held a mirror to how a patriarchal society hurts men too.
2. Little Miss Sunshine
Much like A Death in the Gunj, Little Miss Sunshine too exposed the far-reaching effects of patriarchy by presenting diverse male characters. However, while A Death in the Gunj only hinted at the importance of therapy and sensitivity training, Little Miss Sunshine actually gave us a character (Steve Carell in a polar opposite role from Michael Scott) who not only accepted his past trauma but also sought therapy for the same and showed marked improvement.
3. Silver Linings Playbook
Movies often look at mental health issues as an ailment that either needs a ‘quick fix’ or is a lost cause, when the reality is far more complex. Silver Linings Playbook provided an honest look into the long, hard road to recovery that many mental health patients undertake, and yet, didn’t paint a despairing picture for its lead (a brilliant Bradley Cooper). What this balance achieved is represent mental health patients in an honest but sensitive, and ultimately, positive light.
4. Beautiful Boy
Biographical drama Beautiful Boy deserves complete credit for not shying away from showing the heartbreaking effects of mental health issues, that can often lead to addiction. Through David and Nic’s relationship (a hauntingly beautiful and memorable portrayal by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet respectively), the movie focused on how even a person from a seemingly ‘happy, supportive’ family can battle mental health issues like depression and recovery can be a difficult road indeed.
5. Karthik Calling Karthik
Karthik Calling Karthik can easily be credited as one of the first Hindi films to showcase a male protagonist with a mental health disorder like schizophrenia. The film presented the challenges schizophreniacs suffer from, normalized seeking mental health, and highlighted the importance of providing emotional support to patients. It may have done so with rose-tinted glasses, but that does not take away from the fact that we had a leading hero who appeared ‘suave’ and well put-together but was actually suffering from a mental disorder – because mental health can, and does, afflict anyone, irrespective of what they ‘look like’.
This Marathi-language drama, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film, presented the story of a young man (a brilliant act by Alok Rajwade) battling depression. The beauty of the film was how it reiterated the message that just like any other physical illness, depression too needs medical treatment and help. That it does so with a male lead only furthers the cause of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health problems.
7. Good Will Hunting
Movies either offer a sanitized version of therapists or one where they act more like a life coach (looking at you, Dear Zindagi) rather than a professional therapist. But Good Will Hunting showed us therapists who aren’t ‘put-together’ 100% of the time, making them appear more human and approachable. It also showed how you can be a genius on the brink of a good life, brimming with apparent confidence, and still experience mental health issues. And lastly, it showed how therapy isn’t an instant solution. Sometimes, it can take a few unproductive sessions for the doctor and patient to begin understanding/trusting each other.
8. A Beautiful Mind
Easily the most obvious (and wonderful) addition to the list, A Beautiful Mind gave us a heartwarming story and a brilliant performance by Russell Crowe. However, it’s true win remains in how it showcased with alarming accuracy the debilitating effects of mental health issues on both, patients and their family members. More importantly, it presented the ‘catch-22’ that often afflicts mental health patients, where the very medicines they need for survival can leave them battling other, equally serious side-effects.
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Easily one of the finest coming-of-age dramas, The Perks of Being a Wallflower accurately captured the existential angst and confusion that afflicts teenagers, while also throwing light on the widespread problem of bullying. More importantly, it gave the audience an insight into how childhood trauma can manifest itself in various ways, especially amongst teenagers and young adults who are not as well equipped or aware as adults to process trauma and/or emotions. And professional mental health support is thus, important, at every age.
A special mention to Masaan that may not have directly addressed men’s mental health, but was one of the rare Hindi movies to accurately represent the crippling effects of grief while also highlight the need to process grief, rather than suppress it or channel it through anger, as most Bollywood heroes do.
More times than not though, a movie would rather display their leading heroes as ‘macho men’, proud in their virility and unwilling to showcase vulnerability, in any form. But in these movies, the protagonists broke the image of being ‘tough-as-nails’ and came across as men who were not only in touch with their feelings but also battled issues that in reality affects 1 in ten men. For that reason alone, these movies deserve to be celebrated.