Taking a cue from this post, which lamented the lack of diseases in Bollywood, I was tempted to think of the various ailments produced by the Great Dream Factory.
I mean, a huge majority of the films have the doctor coming out of the OT (after a red bulb switches off), taking off his glasses and morosely pronouncing, “Inhe ab dawaon ki nahin, duaon ki zaroorat hain…” at which point the kin break for a kirtan (Asha Parekh) or a diatribe (Amitabh Bachchan).
But what are the diseases being prayed for? Apart from accidents and pregnancy (yes, it IS treated like a disease in Bollywood!), what are the other diseases?
The Big C is undoubtedly the most popular disease for the absolute surety it brings to the death of the protagonist. Rajesh Khanna would have to be the brand ambassador of the disease, with deadly performances in two landmark films – Anand and Safar. They had everything an ideal cancer patient should exhibit – stoicism, joie de vivre and an ability to sacrifice everything on his way out. Anand even had a name for the illness – lymphocarcoma of the intestine! As he described it, “Jaise kisi Viceroy ki naam ho…”!
Jaya Bhaduri had it in Mili as AB played a reformed alcoholic, watching the love of his life die in front of his eyes. Probably the most touching film on the subject, made priceless by "Badi sooni sooni hain..." in Kishore's voice.
Amitabh Bachchan – tired of seeing people die around him – got the disease (lung cancer) himself in Waqt: The Race Against Time. And he got 9 months to make his son able to stand on his own foot after his death! My friend Udayan managed to mathematically prove that the time elapsed in the film is actually much more than 9 months! And in between all this, Annu Malik sang “Do me a favour, lets play Holi”… wonder nobody died of that!
Several movies have even used the threat of cancer – through wrong diagnosis or otherwise – as a catalyst to make the hero do what terminally ill patients do. Like, cleaning off a mafia cartel (Gambler) or swindling a top gangster (Bluff Master). Yeah, Hindi film directors have a perceptive view of life!
One reason why AIDS is yet to catch on, as a life-ending disease in Indian cinema is because of the doubt it brings about the patient’s character.
Imagine Bhaskar Banerjee thinking about Anand, “Hmmm, the bugger was getting it on the sly… that’s how he got the disease…” Poof! All the poignancy and sympathy fly out of the window! Hence, it has been seen in only serious movies dealing specifically with the problems associated with the disease.
Phir Milenge (directed by Revathy) was the pioneer – which had Salman Khan giving Shilpa Shetty the virus after a one-night stand but thankfully, the movie was so sparsely watched nobody thought of burning their effigies for promiscuity and moral turpitude!
The second movie was My Brother Nikhil (directed by Onir). This is also probably the first Indian movie to show a gay relationship realistically, without either of the partners being a pansy or cracking any jokes about them. A little morbid, but the film was first-rate both thematically (not preachy) and cinematically (great performances all round).
Usually, the extreme form of this is used to pop off the Daddy when the baraat goes back for want of dowry or when the daughter runs away to marry out of caste. Nazir Hussain (not the director-producer) specializes in rolling his eyes, stopping mid-sentence, clutching the left side of his chest and collapsing in a heap! There are way too many scenes like that to keep count!
The long drawn heart disease is used to keep the viewer in suspense over the fate of the patient. Cancer = sure shot dhichkao. Heart disease = Faint hope of Alok Nath donating his heart and saving the bloke. Far fetched, yes but still hanging in there by a narrow thread.
Shah Rukh Khan’s tragic act in Kal Ho Na Ho remains the beacon of all cardiac plotlines of all times. He cracked jokes with Saif, wooed Preity and generally acted like the Good Samaritan, but when your cardiologist Dr Sonali Bendre leaves you for Sanjay Kapoor, one should commit suicide if not dying of a terminal illness.
Sometimes kids get afflicted with these as well. Ajay Devgun's nephew in Pyar To Hona Hi Tha had a hole in his heart, for which Ajay went around stealing stuff.
The signature line of this disease is “Main kahan hoon? Main kaun hoon?” – usually accompanied by a take on the first question and a double take on the second!
Sadma had a concept of selective amnesia, where Sridevi forgot everything between age 5 and her current age (but still managed to reach Ooty from Madras). Evil reviewers commented that there was not too much of a gap between her mental age and 5 years, anyway! But her act as a 5-year old in a 21-year’s body was quite good though all people remember from that film are Yesudas’ songs!
The latest movie to star Amnesia – actually Retrograde Amnesia (whatever THAT means) – was Salaam-e-Ishq (a.k.a Salaam-E-Eeks!). Vidya Balan remembered everything in her life except John Abraham. And our dude had to do what he never did in his life… he tried to remind a girl of himself! Maybe Vidya had a secret affair with Hrithik so she wanted to forget him. Either that, or women generally forget their husbands two years after marriage! Gawd, its been 4 years since I got married!
The other and equally hilarious (though this time, its intended) amnesiac is Aamir Khan in Andaz Apna Apna. He pretended to lose his memory after Raveena Tandon hit him on the head with a stick, to gain entry into her house. Since he did not remember his name even, he was christened Teelu (because he was found on a teela!) and had to be treated by Dr Prem Khurana (“Iss dhande mein bahut purana!”).
It started off with “Chahoonga main tujhe shaam savere…” (Dosti) and has carried on till “Chand sifarish jo karta tumhari..” (Fanaa).
Most of the big daddies of Hindi cinema – Rajesh Khanna (Mere Jeevan Sathi), Sanjeev Kumar (Qatl), Amitabh Bachchan (in the unreleased Zamaanat), AK Hangal (Sholay), Mumtaz (Jheel Ke Us Paar), Kaajol (Fanaa), Naseeruddin Shah (Sparsh), Rani Mukherjee (Black), Akshay Kumar (Aanken) – have played blind and some of them have pretended as well (Amitabh Bachchan in Parvarish and Mehmood in Johar-Mehmood in Hong Kong)!
Nirupa Roy has turned blind on screen – when a tree descended on her – and regained her eyesight after she fervently prayed to Shirdi waale Sai Baba. In Amar Akbar Anthony, twin flames emerged out of the eyes of the Baba, traveled all the way to the back of the prayer hall and inserted themselves in her eyes. And she saw again!
Zor se bolo jai Baba ki! Phir se bolo jai Baba ki!!
Devdas is the poster boy of liver diseases (presumably cirrhosis), though I think he was said to have TB in the novel. But the consensus is that he drank himself to death.
Chhoti Bahu of Saheb Bibi Ghulam is, of course, the poster girl.
A lot of poets have contracted tuberculosis – usually attributed to their poor diet. And this gives opportunity to put on stubble, rub a whole lot of oil on one’s skin, wear dark circles under the eyes and cough uncontrollably!
Leprosy used to happen in the pre-Independence times and anorexia is quite prevalent among the extras in Karan Johar's movies. Sanjay Leela Bhansali was not happy with Rani's triple handicap so he gave Amitabh Alzheimer's (probably the only time in Hindi cinema).
Apart from these, is there anything else? Surely, not in the mainstream. Yeah, she was right. There are too few things ailing Bollywood. (Pun intended!)