Autism in Cinema: Are Indian films getting it right?

April 9:When it comes to Autism on the silver screen, the 1988 Hollywood film Rain Man created a watershed moment. The highest grossing film of that year, Rain Man was unanimously celebrated for its autistic lead character, played by Dustin Hoffman, who exhibited what later became the earliest reference point for 'savant skills'. The term refers to the extraordinary skills that a person on the autism spectrum sometimes portrays - think Thomas Alva Edison, Sir Isaac Newton or Alfred Hitchcock.
But apart from triggering conversation around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Rain Man also brought with it a curious side-effect - a general idea that any individual on the autism spectrum will have an extraordinary talent. To borrow Variety critic Leslie Felperin's words, "Several other films (apart from Rain Man) have deployed autistic characters in a similar way - as quasi-holy innocents whose narrative function is to inspire those around them to be better people." Interestingly, she also goes on to quote Shah Rukh Khan's My Name is Khan as a portrayal that goes beyond his condition. "Shah Rukh Khan's title character's Muslim faith is just as important, and as much an engine for the film's baroque melodrama, as the fact that he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism," she writes. But are our representations any better?
With only a handful of films talking about Autism and its spectrum, much more can be done in this space, said Dr. M.Murugan, Consultant, Child and Adult Psychiatrist. "Films have spoken about other disorders (Taare Zameen Par, Hichki etc) but films haven't dealt with autism, per se, in depth," he opined. While it is a given fact that films have been extremely sympathetic in exploring the universe of disabled, it is nearly impossible to give a holistic understanding of a disorder through a film, say experts. There is such a wide range of manifestations that each person on the spectrum is different. "Some are verbal and some aren't; some are social while others are extremely not social. So when you put a character in a movie, there is no average person that they can show. What filmmakers do and can do is to pick up one kind and portray what they can," explained Gopinath Ramakrishnan, Trustee, Special Child Assistance Network. Agencies
Source: Agencies


  
  

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