Why no one talks of depression in the film industry.
Robin Williams’ apparent suicide at 63 forces us to look at depression in the lives of celebrities more carefully.
As celebrities, people end up being just one word really, ‘Aspirational’. Their lives, the way they look, the way they behave, even when belligerent, their choice of cars, homes, hotels, even toothbrushes are meant to be something mere mortals can aspire to. And somewhere the idea that everything you do must be this large can create quite a dichotomy in a star’s mind. When life, even for them, is a lot of pitfalls along with the accolades. If you’re doing the films that’re making the moolah you’re being critically panned, if you’re doing smaller films, you probably realize that you’re suddenly not really getting much work even though the work you’ve done is stellar because it isn’t making the big bucks. A lot of stars are constantly being pitted against their former works because their current work doesn’t quite live up. And then to have a stable relationship when people half your age are throwing themselves at you constantly can’t be the easiest thing, for stars across the gender divide. In our country, we especially don’t talk of stars as human beings. How can a god be going through sadness, how can a deity be going through depression? So no one ever talks of their lows, no one ever talks of the sadness they have to endure, the loneliness, the pain they go through at the hands of the relentless devil known as the box office. When on a Friday someone can lose a 100 crores, definitely the person on whose shoulders that whole stroke of luck rests must be going through hell. And your divorces, your financial troubles, your mistakes are all going to be spoken of at every table in the country, fodder for people to plaster their insecurities onto forever. How must it feel?
Once you’ve etched work in the public memory your life is unfortunately going to be compared to that work forever. It’s almost as if setting up a good piece of work has forced you to compete with yourself for life, in a race where you will be shamed for not living up to yourself, that too going by someone else’s perspectives. And somewhere, in your eyes own too. Orson Welles must’ve spent his entire life trying to match up to Citizen Kane and this must apply to every star. To expect someone to continue to give us insightful, deep, yet blockbuster films for life is one hell of an expectation, yet that’s something we expect without even realizing it from stars. It is almost as if, the more good content you create, the larger the fall from this pedestal will be. If a man creates ten good films, when he makes his first blunder, his fall will be that bad, which speaks of an absolute unforgiving audience. We create heroes of common men because we need them to survive, we need their stories of events that’re superhuman so that we can kindle the superhuman within, and then we love watching them fall. When they rise, they carry our hopes and when they fall they carry our insecurities. This, in its essence is the burden of being a star.
For a regular common man itself seeking help is such a big thing. We have such massive egos that the minute someone suggests ‘Why don’t you see a counselor’ as human beings our first response is to be incredulous, ‘What me?!’. It takes ages to bring our mere mortal psyches to accept that we need help. So if you’re this superstar, carrying this whole bulk of an image of being superhuman, how much time and effort and falling would it take before you can bring yourself to admit that you need help? You’ve spent a lifetime with millions telling you how good you look, how well you sing, dance, how handsome and great you are, noticing every iota of that face and every minute contortion with rapt attention and now you’re to drag this mammoth of an identity into a counselor’s office and accept that there could be a problem? Sounds like a pretty tough call.
There is also a feeling of being discarded by one’s family, a feeling of deep rejection each time a film fails. Or at the end of a series of failed films. This adulation, this love is one of the biggest addictions known to man. Just look at your own Facebook account to understand it. 50 likes and you feel invincible and there isn’t a human being on Facebook who says that she/he doesn’t notice the number of likes. The best of us might try to be unaffected by it, but most of us pander to it in some small way. How well are we able to really be who we are as opposed to what gets us more adulation, even on a medium as limited as Facebook? Now take that and multiply it a million times. At the end of a string of failed films even a superstar is quickly thrown into oblivion, discarded, to deal with obsolescence and the fact that this adulation will now be someone else’s, that the awards stage will elude you and that your peak is over and you’re now good and proper over the hill, will be something you just have to deal with. And mostly you will deal with it alone, while thousands shared the success. And this is the fate of people who’ve actually made it in a societal sense of achievement and success. Those trying on the sidelines, having done some good work but still unable to get a foothold like Jiah Khan have even more dramatic and painful stories.
In 2008 post a shoulder surgery, SRK was supposedly in depression but you’ll hardly see much written about it. Sanjay Dutt supposedly is in depression in jail, can you even begin to imagine going from a Ferrari and a mansion to a jail cell every two years for the past decade and a half? Parveen Babi was famously in depression and so was Smita Patil. Manish Koirala went through it at one point and it was written about. So it’s clearly not an isolated incident, it is a part and parcel of being a star. Then why aren’t we able to talk of it more? Why isn’t there more of a discourse about it, so that more people who’re famous and depressed can also begin to talk about it, to see it as normal, to take steps to put it out in the open so it begins to be worked at instead of a private pain that no one knows about till it is too late. Maybe as a country we need to see the shadow sides of a celebrity. It’s probably time.
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