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Revisiting Gehraiyaan: A Psychological Film Review

- Hena Akhter


Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi in a scene from Gehraiyaan
Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi in a scene from Gehraiyaan

Gehraiyaan (directed by Shakun Batra), at 2 hours 28 minutes long, sparked controversy at the time of it's release. The movie, about the ocean-like depth in human relationships, attempts to portray the psychosocial elements of complex relationships and leaves viewers pondering fate and chosen destiny along the way.


Sisters Alisha (Deepika Padukone) and Tia (Ananya Pandey), estranged since childhood, share a messy familial history. While Alisha’s boyfriend, consumed by dreams of becoming an author, is neglectful of their relationship, Tia’s fiancé is the smooth-talking Zain who’d risk it all to get what he wants.


Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi) who is used to dealing with adversity, is drawn to Alisha who finds comfort in knowing someone who does not shy away from deep emotional intimacy. Their affair is juxtaposed with flashbacks of Alisha's mother being unhappy and “stuck” in her relationship with Alisha's father - threatening to repeat the cycle of dysfunctional patterns in Alisha's choices.


A common theme shown Alisha’s character is intergenerational trauma, and how it presents itself in the form of depression, anxiety, and dysfunctional behaviour. Alisha's use of prescription anxiety pills during pivotal points in her life not only represent her mental health issues but encourages viewers to look back at all that might have caused her to come to this point.


Would she have been better off if her mother did not commit suicide? Did Alisha’s relationship reflect her mother’s? What could she have done differently to escape falling into a similar situation? The movie does a great job of showing how childhood trauma (separation of parents, suicide etc. in this case) can show up as unhealthy patterns in adulthood. Having negative behavioral patterns (manipulation, lying, lack of trust, self destructive choices and bad coping mechanisms) in close romantic relationships and otherwise is not just a coincidence.


Epigenetics - the science of how the environment affects our gene expression, plays a role in intergenerational trauma. In Gehraiyaan, Alisha had seen her mother suffer through not only a distressful and abusive relationship but also witnessed her death by suicide. Learns about her mother’s infidelity eventually, which does two things for the viewers -

  1. It brings attention to how specific trauma and behavioral patterns can be a cycle passed down through the generations,

  2. It sheds light on how, more often than not, understanding the full picture of relationships and trauma may take more time than one might expect.

A striking detail about the movie is how the characters have a well written character arc that aligns with their personality. Whether it be Alisha's father, the man who is willing to live in a paradox of love and hatred as long as it results in peace for others, or Tia, who is preoccupied with appearing collected and in control. All the characters have a complex and convincing background story that supplements the plotline effortlessly.


Gehraiyaan shows how pressures from society, family and friends affect relationships and how one's past traumas are harder to escape than one may realize. In one scene, Tia’s mother nudges Zain to prepone the marriage ceremony despite his obvious discomfort. While others have criticized the chaos and aimlessness of the characters, in hindsight, this portrayal could be reflective of the circumstances of the characters and their affective states.


  • Destigmatizing Psychiatric Medication: When Zain is going through financial crisis, Tia instead of shaming him for taking anxiety medication, shows care for him, This representation does a rather crucial job of destigmatizing psychiatric medicine. As a caregiver, Tia shows strength and courage at different points of the film. She also demonstrates the nuances of being in an unhealthy relationship, subject to constant manipulation and gaslighting. For Tia, it is challenging to admit to herself Zain does not have her best interest at heart, and she emerges as a vessel for change.

  • Sensitive Themes: The movie touches on themes of psychological distress, suicide, and drug use. A content warning would serve well to warn viewers who might be triggered by such themes like suicide, mental illness, dysfunctional families or death. Psychology research has demonstrated the transient effects of media on social judgments. The consequences of being triggered can range from anxiety/panic attacks to suicidal thoughts depending on one's subjective histories. While the efficacy of trigger warnings in subduing the harmful effects of representation, sufficient evidence exists to support its use in popular media.

  • Simplistic portrayals of psychological issues: In the movie, intergenerational trauma is resolved as easily as having one really tough conversation with a loved one. In reality, one may need extensive therapy sessions , depending on factors like the goals set by mutual agreement between therapist and client, or the therapeutic techniques used by the practitioner. Not emphasizing on the healing process enough on-screen renders the portrayal reductive, over simplistic and unrealistic.


The climax and the resulting conclusion are not perfect; on one hand Alisha reconciles with her father in a touching conversation, rendering some resolution and closure to Alisha's tumultuous past. In the final scene, Tia implores to Alisha, “Can we forget it and move on?”, only to segue to the lady from the yacht (where the misfortune with Zain and Alisha took place). Tia asks if Alisha knows her, hinting at the strange nature of life - the past continually haunting one's present.


Overall Gehraiyaan is an overwhelming but raw and pensive watch. While the film stands out due to its unconventional take on relationships and human nature, the creators could have avoided the mistake of oversimplifying the representation of intergenerational trauma to be more sensitive to the viewers. Film makers should be mindful of the impact of representation on mental health discourses and the nature of conversation they inspire.

film review, psychology film review, Gehraiyaan

 

Hena Akhter is a former Mental Health Advocacy intern at Nolmë Labs.

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