Dear Zindagi’s Shah Rukh Khan is a Bad Therapist, and That’s a Good Thing

At least his character has made us talk about mental health


Why are we considered mentally unstable when we say that we need to consult a therapist? Why are we judged by our own loved ones when we confess that we are going through depression? Why is there a stigma attached to the subject of mental health topic in our country? What is so wrong about seeking help? These are some of the important questions that Dear Zindagi addresses.

The movie challenges the current attitude towards mental health issues. Alia Bhatt’s character Kiara comes from a dysfunctional family. Because of her abandonment issues, she always ends up messing up her love life. Despite the fact that she has not gone through many hurdles, Kiara identifies a pattern in her behaviour.

While in therapy, she is not locked up in a cell, chained to the walls or made to endure an electric shock so that she can come back to her senses. Her problems are similar to the ones you and I face every day, and the movie clearly tell us that it is okay to consult a therapist even if your problems are not the so-called “big” or “serious” ones.

It is only human to feel hurt and broken because of people and circumstances. But what we need to realise is that what is broken can be mended and what is hurt can be healed. And if this means talking to a professional for 45 minutes, opening up about all your problems and facing your fears, why would you say no? If therapy can guide you and provide you with solutions, you should go for it. This is exactly what director Gauri Shinde tries to say in her movie.

“I actually liked Shah Rukh Khan’s role in the movie. Yes, he isn’t like a normal therapist; he also mentions this fact. As a therapist myself, I felt that his character was a very refreshing take on traditional therapy,” shares Miloni Ruparelia, a clinical psychologist.

I didn’t really like this movie when I went to review it. I was fidgeting in my seat until Shah Rukh Khan made his appearance. There were times I felt that his character, Dr Jahangir ‘Jug’ Khan, was more like a philosopher than a conventional therapist. It is evident in several scenes that the movie doesn’t mirror real life. It is unlikely that any ‘dimag ka doctor’ would be as cool as Jug, who takes Kiara cycling, sings along with her, and walks with her at the beach.

And yet, this glamourised version of therapy in the movie at least attempts to talk about an issue we as a country don’t want to address at all. We unthinkingly term mental illness as madness. We lack both the sensitivity and education when it comes to this issue. This movie, and Shah Rukh’s character in particular, are important because they are starting a conversation.

“I remember the first session, when Kiara says that something is wrong with her friend, and how Jug knew that this “friend” was her, but gives her space. He doesn’t push her and that is exactly what you are supposed to do as a psychologist. You let the client speak and reach the conclusion themselves. You can’t spoon-feed them. The therapist is there to listen and help the client out,” says Radheeka Gupta, a practicing psychologist.

Another psychologist, Sneha Mani explains, “I liked that they showed a very normal girl going for therapy. Kiara is someone you and I may be friends with, a friend who may be dealing with a breakup. You or I may feel that she doesn’t need therapy, but in the movie they give Kiara’s character the space to seek help even though she isn’t really dealing with a mental disorder per se. One of the good points about the film is that it stresses on the idea that everyone is allowed to go for therapy and that no problem is too small, because therapy will just help you to better deal with issues. It is similar to going to the doctor when you have a mild cold; you would not consider that wrong. Nobody goes to therapy for fun. You go because you have issues.”

However, Sneha had conflicting responses towards SRK’s character. “On the one hand, I thought that he dealt with certain aspects very well. For example, at the end of the movie, Kiara confesses about liking Jug, and Jug handles the situation exactly like a therapist would. His character’s understanding of the subject was also accurate when it came to initiating her into therapy and making her understand how it would be. But I didn’t like rest of his character,” she says.

She explains this point further. “The makers tried to portray him as an eclectic therapist who uses different methodologies to work with his client. But they made him so unconventional that they didn’t show any stages in the therapy Kiara underwent. The major issue I had with the movie is that it boiled down all of her problems to her abandonment issues. Even though Jug does not say it explicitly, his diagnosis is pretty evident. That’s not how therapy works; using one point solely to explain everything is being reductionist. I also felt that in many situations, he gave her advice through analogies rather than addressing the point directly,” said Sneha.

Sneha also critiques the way Dear Zindagi has portrayed the job of a therapist. “Most therapists are conventional. Viewers of this film may go to therapy with the preconceived notion that everything can be reduced to one problem, and suddenly, their lives will be fine post its identification. This is how the film creates misconceptions,” says Sneha.

Radheeka and Miloni echo Sneha’s sentiments. They both agreed that no therapist would indulge in activities like cycling or taking walks along the beach. They also don’t approve of such methods because a therapist must maintain a professional relationship with the client that remains confined to the consulting room. But all three psychologists feel that this movie will lead to a positive change in society and the minds of people.

“The movie will have a positive impact because today, our society attaches stigma to mental health issues. For example, if 50 out of a 100 people who have watched the movie suffer from mental illness, at least 30 of these 50 may go and talk to a therapist. They will finally take an initiative. Maybe 10 out of these 30 may not enjoy sessions because they do not resemble the ones in Dear Zindagi, but 20 will acknowledge that they are now getting the help they needed and will feel relieved,” adds Miloni.

While many therapists and psychologists have been criticising SRK’s character since the release of this movie, Sneha and Radheeka are especially glad that Bollywood has broached the topic of mental health. I wouldn’t say that Dear Zindagi is a game changer and that it will lead to a massive debate about therapy and mental disorders overnight. But it has definitely made people start talking about a previously taboo topic.