Indian movies depicting dementia

While many Indian movies show seniors and problems of ageing, recently some movies have also started showing persons with dementia. This is often one of the few exposures for Indian viewers to dementia. Many viewers therefore tend to assume that what they see in the movie as a character’s dementia behavior and problems is medically correct. They may also assume that all dementia situations are like the one they saw. But movies are not documentaries, and they are not made to provide the audience a correct and comprehensive understanding of all types of dementia and care situations.

This page lists Indian movies where a main or important character has dementia (duly diagnosed as dementia). A brief overview is provided for each movie. This can help people understand which aspects of dementia and care the movie includes, and how reliable this movie depiction is. It can also help families know what others may be assuming about dementia because they have seen a particular movie.

Movies with major dementia-related depiction

Thanmathra (Malayalam)

തന്മാത്ര (Thanmathra) (Malayalam) , a critically-acclaimed award-winning Malayalam film, was made in 2005. It centers around an intelligent, active and popular Govt. employee Ramesan (played by Mohan Lal). The movie shows him slip into early onset dementia. He is still in employment, and with school-going kids, when he starts facing cognitive problems. Several small problems are shown, and they keep increasing and becoming more obvious and serious. Initial symptoms are assumed to be stress, but as he deteriorates and the behavior becomes distinctly odd, people around him realize they need medical advice. The movie shows the diagnosis, and the way care begins. Mohan Lal’s acting is excellent. Depiction of his early symptoms is very detailed, but the later decline and care work is compressed and rushed through.

The film is considered one of the best dementia films in India, and used many doctors and dementia organizations to ensure the medical aspects were properly explained and depicted.

Usefulness/ reliability note: The film is useful to understand possible ways early symptoms of dementia may be present, and the diagnosis process. It gives some insight on possible financial, social, and personal impact of young-onset dementia. It assumes a predominantly understanding and supportive environment which is not typical of most of India, and does not give enough insight into typical tough, heart-breaking situations and care challenges that early-onset dementia often results in for families. Late-stage care and challenges are not covered.

Relevant links: Wikipedia page on Thanmatra , a review on swapnawrites.wordpress.com, Amazon.in link to buy the DVD . Alternate spellings used on the Internet: Thanmathra, Thanmatra

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Maine Gandhi ko Nahin Maara (Hindi)

मैंने गाँधी को नहीं मारा (Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara) (Hindi) is a 2005 film with a social message (this “moral” becomes obvious at the end) which was critically acclaimed but did not fare well at the box office. The main character of the film, a retired Hindi professor, Uttam Chaudhary (played by Anupam Kher) develops dementia and the film depicts his changed behavior and the challenges it poses to the family that struggles to cope, mainly the daughter Trisha (played by Urmila Matondkar). Both Kher and Matondkar depict the characters superbly. The movie does a tremendous job of depicting initial symptoms, a spurt in the symptoms, the problems the family faces, how the family rallies around and reaches out to him. Love and affection are depicted, as are the very tough situations created because of the challenging behavior, and the family conflicts, social problems, and problems with the daughter’s prospective marriage. The film also includes some scenes that show how the family members can interact with someone delusional/ difficult to communicate with.

The movie moves to a climax where we finally get to know more about Kher’s thinking, his stress, conflict, depression, etc., and are informed about the “moral” message in a courtroom scene that ends the film. The end leaves an impression that because of this dramatic intervention, the dementia is reduced/ reversed, which is misleading and a fictional device, not based on medical evidence. (see links below to learn more about the plot and understand the ending)

The film is relatively non-committal about the diagnosis. The phrases used are “dementia, pseudo-dementia, Alzheimer’s kind of dementia” but nothing more definite is said. The diagnosis process is not shown in detail. (Pseudodementia is a term used by some doctors for situations where dementia symptoms are caused by some treatable underlying cause. The term is usually used for depressive pseudodementia, where treating the depression can remove the dementia symptoms.)

Usefulness/ reliability note: The film provides an excellent depiction to understand one possible scenario of how symptoms may appear and the sort of challenges they may present, and how care can be done. The behavior challenges, family conflicts and social problems shown give an insight into possible problems families may face. However the diagnosis aspect is left nebulous, and the movie may mislead viewers into thinking that the type of dramatic intervention shown in the movie is medically safe and effective in reversing dementia. Please talk to doctors to understand what appropriate interventions can be tried out.

Relevant links: Wikipedia page on Maine Gandhi ko Nahin Maara , two detailed blog entries discussing the story and the ending, including what the director says about them a detailed review on swapnawrites.wordpress.com, a discussion on how fiction sometimes takes some license while depicting illnesses,Flipkart.com link to buy the DVD , Also, for the type of dementia mentioned, see Wikipedia page on Pseudodementia .

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Mai (Hindi)

माई (Mai) (Hindi), a 2013 film that didn’t fare well commercially and got only mediocre reviews, is a family drama where Asha Bhosle plays a mother with Alzheimer’s Disease, and Padmini Kolhapure is one of her daughters. The film revolves around family conflicts and drama around which sibling should look after the mother, and Mai’s behavior/ deterioration.

Mai covers a range of changed behavior typically seen in someone with AD, such as wandering, confusion, accusing the maid of theft, and also shows typical family reactions. The medical angle is well done and fairly complete; we see the doctor asking her questions to diagnose, and also telling the daughter what to expect. There are a few short-cuts, of course, but then this is a movie. The family drama element is around sibling conflict and resentment about care, and also resentment of the son-in-law and granddaughter resisting Mai’s presence. Sideline issues about negligence are also present. Mai’s deterioration is very rapid, however, not giving viewers or the family time to adjust to the situation, and not allowing many disease-related angles to develop.

While the film does a fair job of depicting dementia challenges, the family approach shown leaves the impression that nothing else could have been done. The family’s approach lacks any attempt to communicate or resolve issues, prevent crises and problems, etc.

Usefulness/ reliability note: The film provides a useful depiction of the types of behavior challenges and family situations and conflicts that some families may face. However, for someone trying to understand how to help someone with dementia, the film can be distressing/ misleading/ depressing, because it dramatizes the problems. The film does not provide viewers any hint or data to suggest that there are ways to improve communication, reduce conflict, and improve the quality of life. The film may mislead viewers into erroneously thinking that nothing can be done to adjust with or to help someone deteriorating with Alzheimer’s.

Relevant links: Wikipedia page on Mai, a review on swapnawrites.wordpress.com. The movie may be available on ErosNow.

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Godhi Banna Sadharane Mykattu (Kannada)

ಗೋಧಿ ಬಣ್ಣ ಸಾಧಾರಣ ಮೈಕಟ್ಟು (Godhi Banna Sadharane Mykattu) (Kannada) , a 2016 movie with Anant Nag in the lead, is a critically acclaimed movie. Venkob Rao (Anant Nag) has Alzheimer’s and lives in an old age home because his son is in another city. One day, because of his son’s mistake, he goes missing. The story is about how Anant Nag gets embroiled in a crime, and ends up living with a family that the gangster is holding up, and how his words and actions affect people around him. Also, in a parallel thread, his son and the doctor from the old age home, keep looking for him, and we see the other, younger side of the man, and how he lived his life and cared for persons around him. Anant Nag’s acting is excellent, the diagnosis and other information given about dementia is reliable, and the movie also shows how interactions with persons with dementia can be enriching and valuable to everyone. Characterization is very well done.

Usefulness/ reliability note: The film provides a good depiction of the confusion of dementia and of a situation when young, busy children have to decide how to balance valuing their relationship and care work, as against career ambitions. The movie’s weaving of the past and present of the character serves well to emphasize the personhood of the person with dementia. The movie also provides an impressive depiction of how a mild-mannered but very disoriented person with dementia can enrich lives of people around him, and be accepted and loved even by strangers. A caution, though: all this is shown with respect to a character who is by nature mild and affectionate and does not show aggression, hostility, or other extreme negative behaviors. This should not be extended to assume that everyone with dementia will remain mild and affectionate all through.

At the time of this entry, the movie is still running in the theaters.

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Review Pending, recent re-release (July 15, 2016): Astu (Marathi)

अस्तु! (Astu – So Be It) (Marathi): This movie has received critical acclaim but it did not manage to stay on long at the box office. It was releasde only in one hall in Pune for a short while. The movie has now been released again (July 15, 2016) and can be seen in theaters in Maharashtra, but does not yet have a DVD version. The story is about a Sanskrit scholar who has dementia and wanders off, and the starring includes Dr. Mohan Agashe , Iravati Harshe , Milind Soman , Amruta Subash ,and others. Dr. Mohan Agashe, the actor who plays the person with dementia, is a psychiatrist and a veteran, respcted Marathi actor. The movie has received very good reviews from critics and been appreciated by audiences, including activists in the domain of dementia and ageing.

Watch a movie trailer on Youtube: ASTU “SO BE IT” . Or read more about the movie and see links to news and recent reviews on the Facebook page of Astu.

The DVD version is expected to be released. Our comments on the movie be posted after we have been able to see the movie.

U, Me aur Hum (Hindi)

U, Me aur Hum (Hindi), a 2005 love story movie, stars Kajol and Ajay Devgan. Piya (Kajol), when still in her twenties, is shown as forgetting things. Ajay (Ajay Devgan) and Piya fall in love, marry, and have a child. Piya’s episodes of strange behavior keep happening, including episodes of wandering/ other problems. The baby almost dies because of her disorientation. A doctor suggests institutionalization. Decision point. Hubby, after some initial wavering, decides against institutionalization, love conquers all, and problems vanish and we then see Kajol with a grown-up son. She looks .

While there are some persons who get Alzheimer’s in their twenties, it is very rare. And again, while in some cases dementia progresses slowly, most early onset cases develop fast, but Kajol is shown as independent, well-groomed, alert, smart and witty even decades after her first symptoms appear. All scenes depicting Kajol’s disorientation and problems happen in the first few years of her dementia and then seem to vanish. The movie shows none of the problems the disease brings in day-to-day life, especially in a nuclear family with a working husband and an infant. It implies that there are no problems once the husband starts showering love.

Usefulness/ reliability note: The dementia scenario depicted in the movie is so unlikely that the movie can be extremely misleading. Romance-craving viewers may think of it as a story of love and hope and miracles, but the movie cannot be used to understand dementia or care, not even early onset dementia.

Relevant links: Wikipedia page: U, Me aur Hum .

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Other movies (lower/ nominal dementia-related depiction)

Black (Hindi)

ब्लैक (Black) (Hindi), a 2005 movie, is a critically-acclaimed, successful movie that stars Amitabh Bachhan and Rani Mukherji and centers around Rani Mukherji and her multiple challenges and on Amitabh Bachhan’s role as a teacher. The dementia angle is that Bachchan develops Alzheimer’s Disease later, and seems to be part of an interesting story arc to show the teacher as helpless and unable to communicate while the student is now the helper. The movie includes some very good scenes where Bachchan shows the early confusion/ disorientation, but does not show enough of the deterioration or how he handles daily life, etc. The onset and progression of Alzheimer’s is not fleshed out and the medical situation is barely dwelt on. Bachhan is even shown chained to the bed with metal chains in a hospital, an unacceptable approach that should not be considered normal; this may mislead viewers and make them think such restraining is correct and to erroneously think that this is a normal procedure that hospitals should follow. That would be very wrong and unfortunate.

Relevant links: Wikipedia page: Black , blog entry: in this blog blog entries discussing the story and the ending, including what the director says about them a detailed review with respect to dementia depiction on swapnawrites.wordpress.com. The movie should be available as CD/ DVD online or in shops].

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Listen…Amaya(Hindi)

Listen…अमाया(Listen… Amaya) (Hindi), a 2013 movie, stars Farooq Shaikh, Deepti Naval and Swara Bhaskar. The film, set in Delhi, shows the interactions between Leela (a widow who runs a library cafe, played by Deepti Naval), a widowed photographer, Jayant ‘Jazz’ (Farooq Shaikh) and Leela’s daughter, Amaya (played by Swara Bhaskar). The movie is about a book that Amaya and Jazz work on together, which involves their roaming around in Delhi; also the movie shows the developing relationship between Leela and Jazz and the conflicts around it.

The dementia angle of the movie is subtle and only mentioned at the end when it is revealed that some of the strange behavior and episodes around one character were an early sign of dementia.

The movie is not particularly useful to understand Alzheimer’s, though it does give a glimpse of a few early signs. However, someone seeing it may remember this as a movie showing Alzheimer’s and may even assume that the mild symptoms shown are all that will happen. The movie is typically not even listed as a “dementia” movie.

Some links: Wikipedia page: Listen… Amaya

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O Kadhal Kanmani (Tamil)

ஓ காதல் கண்மணி (O Kadhal Kanmani) (Tamil), a 2015 romantic movie, is basically a story about live-in relationships and has had a good reception. A young couple is in a live-in relationship and stays with an older couple where the wife Bhavani (Leela Samson) has Alzheimer’s. While Bhavani’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease is a known factor right from the beginning, and some mild confusions she suffers are shown at many places, her dementia is essentially used to introduce small problems and move the plot onward by showing how the older couple is deeply in love. The dementia problems shown are mainly mild forgetfulness/ confusion, and two episodes of wandering. While the husband is shown as caring and gentle with his wife, this whole aspect (the dementia and care) are incidental and used mainly to support the contention that couples can be deeply in love and can make marriage a success. Surprisingly, even after knowing of the Alzheimer’s, and after an episode of Bhavani forgetting her way back home, no one seems prepared for the possibility that she may wander again. They even start looking for her without carrying their phones or her photo to show around.

Like some other movies where dementia of a character is used as a plot device, O Kadhal Kanmani is not useful to understand Alzheimer’s, though it does give a glimpse of a few early signs. It is also not useful to get any insight into practical care aspects (other than the need for love and patience). However, given the movie’s popularity and the explicit mention of Alzheimer’s, viewers may remember this as a movie showing Alzheimer’s and may even assume that the mild symptoms shown are all that will happen. The movie is typically not listed as a “dementia” movie.

Some links: Wikipedia page: O Kadhal Kanmani

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Not currently running/ No DVD/ Not yet released: Dhoosar (Marathi), Life Flows On (English)

Movies in this category (as of June 2016) are: Dhoosar (Marathi), Life Flows On (English)

धूसर (Dhoosar) (Marathi): This 2011 film, directed by Amol Palekar, won many awards, but may not be easy to find as a DVD doesn’t seem to be available. The story is about a mother-daughter relationship where the mother gets Alzheimer’s and the daughetr is shocked to find a stranger living with her for the last two years when the daughter was not there. The film is a multi-layered, sensitive depiction of how the mother changes with her Alzheimer’s. A news report here , and a movie trailer is available on Youtube: Dhoosar (Official_Movie Promo) on Full2marathi.com .

Life Flows On (English): This movie is still looking for distributors. Starring includes Tom Alter. See their Facebook page and website. The official movie trailer is available on Youtube: Life Flows On – Official Trailer #1 (2015)- A film dedicated to dementia patients. .

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General note about movies that depict dementia

As can be seen from the above, no movie depicts all aspects of dementia problems, family situations, care approaches, etc. Each movie focuses on some aspects, and may also use some fictional liberties with what can be done/ what is available, etc. So no movie is complete and representative enough to be treated like a documentary. Also, in order to keep the audience engaged and the story line attractive, some aspects tend to be seen more in all movies, and some aspects are rarely depicted. Some observations:

  • Most movies depict the person as being quite young, or at most in the sixties. Actually, dementia can occur at younger ages, but is more typical at older ages.
  • Movies typically avoid a lot of the sordid and tiring aspects of caregiving, such as helping in the whole range of daily activities all day long, every day. They also avoid depicting problems that are awkward, like incontinence, obscene behavior, and extreme aggression. Late stage care and end-of-life decision conflict has, so far, not found place in movies. Even movies that show the person’s death often rush through that phase.
  • Movies usually tend to show either a very mild-mannered person or a very aggressive situation, and the impression of dementia impact that a viewer may carry could vary very widely depending on whether they saw a movie like Mai or a movie like Godhi Banna.

When watching a movie where someone has dementia, keep in mind that howsoever authentic the depiction, it cannot be complete and that the story-writer would have taken some liberties to make the plot interesting and fast-moving. we watch a movie, we connect emotionally and remember more than what we would if we just read some descriptions. For those watching such movies to understand dementia and its impact, it is therefore helpful to know what each movie’s focus is, and which aspects are not part of the movie focus, or are extensions where writers took some liberties with dementia facts to have a more interesting story.

Note: Some more details for some movies are available in the blog post: Indian Movies Depicting Dementia: Some Comments.

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Page/ post last updated on: December 6, 2016