The Indian film industry and media houses have long-misrepresented disability; several of the films in fact being derogatory to persons with disabilities. From Shahrukh’s Zero to Hritik’s Kaabil, there are endless examples of demeaning portrayal of disabilities and associated challenges.
There is however a slight departure from this norm, with Netflix’s new web series “Mismatched”, that features a disabled character. The character, Anmol Malhotra, can be seen using a wheelchair, in a series which is not primarily on disability. Against the usual practice of including disabled characters only in films that have an underlying theme on disability, this romantic-drama features Anmol Malhotra as one of the supporting characters, without over-emphasizing on his disability.
The character is also shown confronting with his real-life challenges, as oppose to patronizing, or sympathizing based on his disability. This is important, as one of the articles on the movie Zero highlights: “not every person with disability has to be a Stephen Hawking to be worth a normal human life”. Anmol does not seem to be a Divyang too, with no supernatural abilities.
One of the scenes from the series is especially impressive, with the appropriate depiction, correct terminologies, and a powerful attitude. A scene from episode 5 (uploaded below), shows Anmol Malhotra entering a classroom in an institute that offers crash courses on coding. Since he is late to the class, the instructor asks him to leave; as an answer to which, Anmol tells him that he had gone to take a leak. When the instructor did not seem to be buying his replies, Anmol strikes with an epic answer, that is a summary of an actual issue with millions of disabled who suffer because of the inaccessibility of physical spaces.
Anmol explains how the institute had only one accessible washroom for the disabled, which was also located on the other-end of the campus. The washroom, which usually remained un-cleaned, was also locked when he wanted to use it. Given such inaccessible infrastructure, he had to literally stop drinking water, for the fear of not getting to use the washroom if needed. He ends his strike with a phrase “I am fucking sorry for being late, but I am not fucking sorry for being disabled”.
The over the top telecom service platforms, with their departure from the general clichés, boring stories, and censored content of the Bollywood and Indian television industry, also seems to be making progress on the socio-cultural front with better representation of marginalized identities. With more such Anmol Malhotras in the Indian media and film industry, persons with disabilities have an optimistic time ahead. It is however yet to be seen if real persons with disabilities are casted for the characters depicting disabilities. For now, celebrating Mismatched.