One of four people in the world will suffer from mental illness at some point of their lives, with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as one the most common problems. Currently, less than 10% of people with OCD is under treatment. How is cinema reflecting these statistics?
In general, we see two genres of movies that touch on the issue of mental illness. A comedy, in the model of As Good as It Gets (James L. Brooks, 1997), in which Jack Nicholson plays an unsociable character fit into a conventional formula that drags toward the happy ending. Or a tragedy, like Still Alice (Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, 2014), in which Julianne Moore plays a linguistic expert who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Despite Moore’s outstanding performance, the film is a dramatised lecture on the cruelty of Alzheimer’s, and very painful to watch. Curiously Moore herself has developed a mild OCD. She is obsessed by not getting caught in red lights in the traffic. Her OCD led her to leaving her house at certain times so she would face more green lights than red.
Dirty Yellow Darkness stands somewhere in the middle of comedy and tragedy, and it is much closer to real life. Life is not as dark as in Still Alice, and as it’s not as lighthearted as in As Good as It Gets. The main character Vishwa has a chronic condition. He is afraid of his own urine. In his mind, “it [the germs] transfers from place to place, but others don’t see it”. Every time he urinates, he has to take a shower. As a consequence, he loses his job and his wife.
Audiences hardly see Vishwa speaking. He is living in a silent mystery that no one is able to comprehend. Vishwa washes himself with loads of soaps and also detergents. He washes his mobile, the banknotes he receives, even his ID documents. He doesn’t pick up anything that falls on the floor, afraid he could become contaminated. He sets fire to his own mattress because he has urinated on it. Eventually he realises he cannot deal with the illness alone, and then goes voluntarily to a mental hospital.
One of the locations of the film is a hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka, including a detailed picture of the conditions of the facilities. There are many tribulations during the treatment. Vishwa visibly makes a big effort because he wants his love back. His wife doesn’t have the support of her parents, who question why she married him in first place.
Under this verve of Asian romantic relationships in Bollywood style, the film flows into a territory of sentimental flashbacks guided by melodramatic and at times borderline mawkish Indian soundtrack. The sweet atmosphere clashes with the harshness of the treatment. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) involves exposure and response prevention, or in other words, in this case: urine!
Dirty Yellow Darkness is part of the London Indian Film Festival taking place this week – click here for more information about the event.
Watch the film trailer below: