A Psychiatrist' s perspective of 1 Nenokkadine movie
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28 January 2014

I had the pleasure of watching the movie Nenokkadine recently. I use the word “pleasure” not essentially to describe the experience of watching a great movie, but basically to describe my happiness about watching a Telugu film in which the protagonist suffers from a psychiatric disorder, which is my domain. As a psychiatrist, I could not stop myself from analyzing the character and the way it has been portrayed. Not surprisingly, the film has been garnering polarized reviews, with some loving it immensely and the others, not so much.

The basic theme of the movie is very complicated. It deals with a character who suffers from a severe mental disorder. He has trouble differentiating reality from fantasy. He repeatedly hallucinates about three guys, who he thinks are the ones that murdered his parents. But he is constantly told by the world that those guys don’t exist and the very murders he is talking about are nothing but a figment of his imagination. He grows up developing a very confused state of mind, not knowing what to believe- his instincts that tell him that those guys really exist or the world which keeps telling him otherwise. It is interesting to watch how the story unravels and how the lead character deals with his demons before settling scores with those guys.

It needs a great vision and clarity in a director when he is a portraying the main lead as someone who has complex psychiatric problems. Otherwise the characters can end up very confusing. Numerous movies have been made in the USA which deal with psychiatric illnesses. Attempts have been made in Indian Film Industry to portray mental illnesses, but those films don’t come out that often. The ones which are etched in the popular memory are Aparichitudu, Chandramukhi (both dealing with Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), Vasantha Kokila (Amnesia), ANR’s Praana Dhaatha (Dissociative Fugue), Swathi Mutyam (Autism), My Name is Khan (Asperger’s), Karthik Calling Karthik (Schizophrenia) and a few more. It is heartening to see a Telugu Film Director attempting to portray another complex psychological problem and having guts to make this on a huge canvas despite the experimental nature of the film. It is also commendable that he did not follow the so called rules of making a typical commercial Telugu film.

The movie has its own merits and demerits. On the plus side, the story idea is unique. It has never been dealt with on Indian screen as far as my knowledge goes. The director also does not waste much time in establishing the main theme of the movie. He tries to suck the audience into the narrative from the word go. There is so much happening in the movie with in the first fifteen minutes. Though the graph falls after that, it picks up again with the pre interval bang. It is nice to see that no separate comedy track or forced humor has been imparted in to the storyline to make it more “entertaining”, which could have diluted the narrative. How the story unfolds in the second half and how it reaches its logical end are also well written. Once the confusion of the ‘reality vs fantasy’ is solved, the audience begin to connect with the character and start feeling his emotions. They desperately want him to find his parents and find a closure to the emotional pain he has been experiencing for several years.

On the flip side, Mahesh Babu’s character is very confusingly portrayed in the first half, making it hard for the audience to emotionally connect to him and feel his pain. Only towards the end of the first half that the audience begin to root for him. But so much time has been wasted by then. If only the movie had been made more ‘fat-free’, by making it more taut and crispier, it would have ended up as a classic psychological thriller. One can see the redundancy in Goa scenes especially the whole boat chase episode.

The very obvious main storyline of the movie is not the one that makes Sukumar a remarkable director. It is the subtlety in dealing with certain emotions that sets him apart. For a trained and a keen eye, there are so many aspects in the movie that reveal his psychological mindedness. It appears that he is a keen observer of human behavior and emotions. I only wish that he had made more research into developing the main character’s psychological issues. As a psychiatrist, I am left confused about the exact nature of his illness. The “Integration Disorder” which he claims, is a humbug. I could see shades of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Schizophrenia in his character. It appears that he was influenced by certain behaviors of the people he met in his life, though not being fully knowledgeable of the nature of illnesses they suffer from. I do not believe that the director has consulted a psychiatrist/psychologist before making this movie, based on the fact that when Mahesh Babu goes for a medical checkup, the doctor there (presumably a psychiatrist, in a worst caricature possible) makes statements which make no medical sense at all. If the director really wanted to make a different film, I wish he had made some research into the character. He appears to have paid keen attention to certain details of the movie, but not so much while developing the character in a medically accurate way. What separates a great director from the rest is how well the complex emotions are teased out of seemingly normal characters. Each and every human being has psychological issues. Problems arise only when those issues start interfering with day to day life. Great directors have a knack of observing these idiosyncracies in common people and using them to great effect in the characters they create. Having said that, this movie makes Sukumar, a watch out director for me. Certain cinematic liberties are permissible while dealing with complex medical problems to make the characters more palatable to the general audience.

Others who deserve a mention are the music director, whose terrific background score elevates several scenes which could have been less appealing otherwise, and the cinematographer whose work sets the mood for the film. The character has also been brilliantly portrayed by Mahesh Babu. He could portray emotions through his eyes even with a stoic face. In the very beginning of the film, when he is attacked in his concert, the very look in his eyes reveals the imaginary nature of the incident even before it is revealed to the audience in obvious terms by the video recorded by the female lead. Mahesh Babu has been known for subtle performances and he proves his mettle again with this film.

Coming back to the psychiatric illnesses that the film tries to portray, to describe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a nutshell- when a person/child experiences an immensely traumatic event in his life, wherein his or others’ life or physical integrity is in danger, he goes on to develop certain psychological issues, the symptoms of which we collectively call as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We see PTSD most commonly in Military combat veterans, survivors of violent rapes, people who were in horrible motor vehicle accidents or children who suffer from severe physical or sexual abuse.

During that traumatic event, they experience intense fear, which is engrained into their “emotional memory” and later they begin to experience frequent painful memories of that incident. Sometimes they have psychological flashbacks (sudden involuntary re-experiencing of the incident). At times they fail to recognize it as a memory and think of it as something really happening then and there. (Portrayed in the film as Mahesh Babu “imagining” attacks on him by the guys who killed his parents and tried to kill him). These patients generally have frequent nightmares, waking up from sleep sweaty and scared (like in the introductory scene of Mahesh Babu). They feel paranoid, hypervigilant and are always on guard to detect threats, which they assume can happen anytime. They can also experience survivor’s guilt, depersonalization and at times derealization. The flashbacks can be so intense that they can even smell the smells that were there during that traumatic incident. For example, a person who survived a house fire can really smell burning wood, whenever remembers the incident.

Some of our memories have strong emotional component to them. We can probably think of only few memories from the past and feel no associated emotion with it. For example, if you hear a song when you are in a very happy mood, our brain attaches happiness to that particular song. In the future, whenever you hear that song, you tend to feel happy. Similarly, any memory pertaining to a traumatic incident can bring back that particular emotion (the emotion of fear in this case). Some people can be triggered by even minute reminders of the incident. Fox example, I have a patient who was in the US Military and served tours in Vietnam War. He encountered several combats in the rice fields in Vietnam with some of them being life threatening to him. Even after 30 years, now whenever he sees rice or a rice field, his body goes into a panic mode, he starts having flashbacks and relives the traumatic experiences. He still sleeps with a gun next to him, wakes up with even minute noises and has several alarm systems in his house. When he goes to a restaurant he makes sure he sits with his back to the wall, so that no one can attack him from behind, like the way he was attacked in Vietnam. He feverishly avoids rice, war movies on TV and does not go to any place where he might see a Vietnamese looking person.

PTSD has been portrayed in many Hollywood movies dealing with combat and Military (Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Jarhead and to a certain extent in Rambo and several others). Certain features of PTSD have been portrayed in many Indian movies, but never the full blown disorder.

On the contrary, people who suffer from Schizophrenia, can sometimes see and hear people when there is nobody around (Hallucinations). They can also be paranoid and delusional, depending on the type of Schizophrenia they suffer from. These people suffer from more severe symptoms and are usually called “psychotic”. It is beyond the realm of this article to describe the features of Schizophrenia, hence I am skipping the details. But generally, Schizophrenia is not caused by traumatic events in life. Schizophrenia has also been dealt several times in American movies (most famously but inaccurately portrayed by Russell Crowe in “The Beautiful Mind”)

The features of these two disorders have been used to create Gautam’s character in the movie. It is heartening to see that the Telugu Film Industry is opening up to diverse and complex portrayals of characters rather than sticking to age old formulas. I hope to see more and more films of this sort coming out of our own film industry. I also hope to see more and more directors thinking out of the box and making such debate provoking movies. The dramatic stories and emotions I hear from my patients in my clinic everyday can hopefully be watched on big screens by the millions of Telugu film lovers all over the world.

PS: One scene in the movie I thought would deserve a mention is the graveyard scene. I frequently encounter questions in my clinic on how to deal with the children whose mother or father had died recently. The best way is to let the child know that the parent had died, rather than instilling hopes about the parent’s return. This was shown effectively in the way Mahesh Babu converses with the child in the graveyard. Such are the scenes that make movie watching a great experience!!

- Pavan Rao

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