Nowadays, it’s a rare experience to be able to watch an entire programme on a news channel which doesn’t have Sambit Patra on it, or people screaming at each other. NDTV’s interview of Deepika Padukone, in which the actress spoke about being clinically depressed, was therefore a welcome break from the outrage to which we are usually subjected. That an A-list star was willing to speak on primetime television – and that too in such a forthcoming manner – about being clinically depressed is commendable, and one of the few interviews which I was looking forward to watching as a result.
This wasn’t a one-on-one interview. Barkha Dutt spoke to Deepika Padukone, her mother Ujala, and the two doctors who treated Padukone – Anna Chandy, a transactional analysis practitioner and Dr Shyam Bhatt, a psychiatrist. What I expected from the interview was information on how you identify the symptoms of clinical depression, that one shouldn’t be stigmatised for being depressed, how you need to get medical help for it – and of course, Padukone’s personal experience with clinical depression. To me, that a star of her popularity and calibre was speaking about being clinically depressed is important — it’s a critical step towards people recognising depression as an actual disease and not a figment of someone’s imagination or as a stigma. Basically, what I expected was a sensible, practical discussion.
Which was what we got when Padukone, her mother or her doctors spoke. Padukone especially was pragmatic, anecdotal, rarely emotional, frank and intelligent when she recounted what she’d gone through. What the doctors said about clinical depression was extremely educational. Most importantly, Padukone’s mother’s retelling of how she helped her identify the illness and get help was very powerful in proving how important it is to have a good support system. There was nothing maudlin or dramatic about anything that was said by any of them.
What came across through the interview was that Padukone is happy to use her celebrity status to build awareness about something that is widely considered a non-illness in our society. Since whether it makes for good TV or not, Padukone was there to speak about something serious and it needed to be dealt with seriously. But old habits die hard.
Did Padukone think twice before talking about her illness, asked Dutt. Padukone made it clear, right at the beginning, that she didn’t see her decision to talk about depression in that light and instead felt she’d be helping people.
Here are some of the sensitive and immensely pertinent questions asked and statements made.
What did you feel exactly?
It’s difficult to talk about, isn’t it?
We don’t want to upset you. But even today it is that intense, that even today, it will bring those tears.
Did you ever tell Deepika not to talk about it? (to Padukone’s mother who has just explained how she encouraged her daughter to accept the illness and seek help because there’s no stigma to being unwell)
None of us can actually understand what you went through, but I have some sense of it. (Actually, no, you don’t. And neither do any of us who haven’t been clinically depressed.)
Is there a part of you that’s scared that people are watching me cry? (Padukone’s answer: Not really. Because I’m looking at the larger picture. And this is really not about me.)
I cry easily. I cry while watching a movie, while reading a good book.
Did you feel suffocated by the mask you had to wear?
Dutt also asked Deepika whether the actress thought that creative people are more prone to depression. Padukone replied in the negative. Dutt responded with, “They do say those who live under the arclights, tend to be lonelier”.
The fact that India is the most depressed country in the world; that we have the highest number of suicides; that women are more likely to have depression, but only half as likely to kill ourselves are worth mentioning in this context.
Hats off to Deepika Padukone for sticking her neck out and talking about what she’d undergone. It cannot be easy to do so in an industry that never talks about its stars’ follies – whether it be their relationships, philanderings, drug problems or family conflicts. To be willing to break the mould of perfection and expose the chinks in your armour, in a country like India and an industry like show business, both of which like sweeping infirmities and frailties under the carpet, is impressive.
Padukone’s interview is likely to help a lot of people accept or identify their depression. Just seeing that Padukone can do this without being ostracised and can emerge from depression even stronger than she was, others will believe they can too.
This is an interview which will go down in history as the first time an Indian celebrity at the top of her game and pinnacle of her career spoke out. The actress steals the limelight and this time around, it’s for a good cause.