Phobia - An Irrational Fear

"Phobia" is a 2016 psychological thriller starring Radhika Apte and directed by Pavan Kirpalani. The movie is certainly not among the popular list of box office hits at the Indian market but has definitely got several groups talk about the theme that the movie has successfully managed to portray – phobia.

The story revolves around Mehak Deo (Apte) who had been a victim of a gruesome molestation in a cab. The next thing she knows is waking up on the road and random strangers offering a helping hand in the dark alley. Her emotional instability probably begins at this point wherein she screams her lungs out. Ever since then Mehak develops a phobia of spaces and people around her. Her therapist diagnoses her with Agoraphobia. A phobia is an irrational fear that begins to hinder one’s routine life and affects one’s normal functioning and behaviour. Mehak begins to avoid stepping out of her house (not even to open the door for her young nephew after school).

The situation turns nastier when Mehak is drugged and moved to an apartment (with the help of her friend). This is when the audience would get to see how phobias could turn one’s life miserable. She has difficulty doing the most basic of chores on her own. For instance, the audience wouldn’t easily forget the time Mehak had to throw her garbage into the bin outside her door; she ties herself to an object within the house and then step-by-step moves towards the bin. Although this humorous instance stays vividly in one’s memory, it also goes on to show the “irrationality” of such fears while also ascertaining how it is difficult to suffer from such phobias especially without receiving help at the right time.

Kirpalani also seems to have weaved his story around the different kinds of psychological disorders increasing in urban India and therapies that are increasingly getting popular in such spaces (especially apartments). Mehak witnesses (from her window) an old lonely woman talking to herself in the park below, a curious case of visual hallucination. Also, her neighbour, Mr. Manu, turns out to be quite interesting. Manu suffers from anger issues. It is not very common among people to accept anger as a psychological issue. But when failing to manage your anger begins to hinder your routine and life in general, perhaps it’s time to look at it professionally. Manu just lost his girlfriend since the latter left him due to his angry outbursts and physical assaults. As a result, Manu seems to have joined some sort of laughter therapy group and claims to have subdued his anger using laughter. However, Kirpalani does throw in a bit of humour owing to the weird instances in which Manu starts laughing (which of course might not be the best way to show the effectiveness of laughter therapy).

However, Kirpalani did manage to showcase the various forms in which city and urban lifestyle has resulted in certain kinds of behaviours taking shape. For most part of the movie, the camera never leaves the solitary apartment in which Mehak lives. It perfectly captures the essence of living in giant sky scrapers, indifferent to the ones living next doors and with little connection with the world outside and its realities. However, the story finally rests on Mehak, an aspiring and talented young artist, whose life taken a turn downhill owing to one unfortunate incident of abuse. It leaves the audience with the idea that the possibility of being affected by certain psychological disorders is high and does not require you to have a history of any such disorders in your family line. Of course there is a predisposition involved, but it can, largely, affect anybody. Getting professional help at the right time matter a lot.

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