I suppose there is a big difference between making movies about therapy for an audience used to the idea of psychotherapy and counselling, and one which has largely been fed with histrionics and exaggeration of anything to do with mental health. Which is why, perhaps, there is such a large difference between how a movie like ‘Prime’ (Starring the amazing Meryl Streep and the awesome Uma Thurman) deal with the humanness of the therapist, and what Dear Zindagi does for us here in India, with the first introduction to the ‘DD’ being through a conference of sorts where the basic questions are asked: What is the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a counsellor? Is this for ‘crazy’ people? (We have some answers in our FAQ)
There is much to appreciate in Dear Zindagi on how it approaches the subject of therapy, starting with the wonderfully nuanced declaration by the movie’s token gay character – that he is in therapy so that he can be comfortable to tell himself that he is gay. A lot of other therapy biggies get covered too – that the sessions have a time limit, for instance and that it is paid for (INR 3,000 per session, in the movie). It also covers transference, with the client wondering if she ‘like likes’ the therapist and asking if they could meet for a coffee, and for me, more than all that it was the simple and clear message that some of one’s present-day troubles, be it at relationships or work, can be from unhelpful learned patterns from the past, and that one can recover from it and grow.
Maybe I am picking nits, and I should just be grateful that this degree of realism was granted and I am grateful for that, but I do have some nits to pick. To start with, before I get to the nits, I guess I should take the pinch of salt the movie offered at the outset: the therapist declares himself very early on that he is in some sense, eclectic, that he follows the rules he chooses, and is flexible about others – and it was great to see that some of the basic rules do get maintained such as time, money, and some social boundaries.
So, the nits: At the very basic level, I do wish the therapist’s place was a lot less fancy and glamorous. I wonder if it might seem that therapy is only a rich person’s vanity, a luxury that rich kids of indulgent parents can afford.
There is so much other flexibility the therapist gives himself that made me question if that’s ok – like the sessions on the beach and on cycles, and once on a boat with lots of other people in hearing distance, all of that without much of a check-in on the what-fors and wherefores, so much of personal disclosure of the therapist’s own personal life (At one point, I wondered if the movie was veering towards the therapist manipulating the client into a relationship with the unusual sharing of one’s divorced/ single status and stories of child custody), a more-than-usual physical proximity with the client right from the get-go, and to top all that, an abrupt closure initiated by the therapist while using eye-drops that just didn’t feel right.
There are other nits too, but let’s face it: at the end of the day, this is a Bollywood movie. I am grateful that this much happened, and that there is a bit more conversation about therapy and counselling in India, a bit more curiosity, and hopefully, it sets us on a road of greater acceptance of personal therapeutic work.
Thank you, Gauri Shinde for Dear Zindagi, warts and all.
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.