If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you’ll know that I love movies with important messages. Recently I got a chance to sit down and watch a couple of films that had characters with a visual difference. As someone with perceived “disfigurement”, I found these movies very relatable and inspiring.
I’ve compiled a list of 4 visual difference themed movies that have important life lessons for vitiligo fighters to learn. As a real movie buff, I hate spoilers. So, there aren’t going to be any spoilers here. Read the list without reservation.
1. The Elephant Man (1980)
The Elephant Man is a portrait of an outcast defeating his fears and deformities with creativity, wit, and compassion. The story of John Merrick (based on the actual historical figure), who has reached the very heights of Victorian England society after being humiliated for years due to his deformities is heart touching.
The film reveals decency and dignity below which seems ugly on the surface. Director David Lynch is not shy to show here a more despicable side of humanity. Despite this, there is a profound warmth to the film, which can make any vitiligo fighter feel emotional. John Hurt’s performance, who plays Merrick, goes to lengths in never allowing Merrick to become an object of pity – a victory for both director and viewer of the film. It’s a must-watch for any person with a visual difference.
2. Yomeddine (2018)
“A man cured of leprosy and an orphan set out on a donkey” might sound like the start of a familiar joke, but it’s also what happens early in Yomeddine. This is a road movie that offers a cocktail of drama, a dash of social critique, some chuckles and a few tugs at the heartstrings.
Director A.B. Shawky should be commended for turning his cameras on a subject very rarely explored in cinema – leprosy. The film insists on Egyptian society’s misconceptions about skin disease, the stigma of which led to the creation of leper colonies in Egypt.
There are indeed incredible moments, some that feel quite realistic like one where lead character Beshay (the person with disfigurement) utters a line— “I am a human being!”. “You’re not sick, you just have scars that didn’t heal,” is another heart touching moment that will make any person with visual difference cry.
3. Imago (2018)
Imago is one of the very few movies ever made that feature a character with vitiligo. The film might be based on vitiligo, but it lets the visuals do the storytelling. Broadly speaking, Imago conveys the message that physical beauty is only skin-deep; the real beauty lies in the soul. First-time directors Vikram Patil and Karan Chavan’s Imago goes further by exploring a rarely spoken about the skin condition. Instead of casting an artist to play the character, they cast an actress with vitiligo – Aishwarya Ghaydar.
The story takes place in Kolhapur (India), following the life of 14-year-old Namrata whose vitiligo turned her into an introvert. As you slowly get acquainted with Namrata and her world, it is difficult to take your eyes off the screen. The most challenging task here was to handle the subject of vitiligo. But, the director duo does it masterfully. Vitiligo is very much present throughout the film, but there is only a single mention of it. Imago, as an important film, proves the point that visual narration can be a delight if done right.
I had the privilege to watch Chhapak before its worldwide release date – 10 Jan, 2020. Deepika Padukone, the actor who is playing the part, appeared in full prosthetic makeup in the movie, highlighting the scars and burns on her character’s face. The film haunts you, but in the end, it also offers a silver lining.
There is an uncanny similarity between the survivor and vitiligo fighters. While the physical pain acid attack survivors go through isn’t present in skin condition, the disfigurement caused by both is real. It takes years to come to terms with your new visual identity. And, that’s what Malti, the protagonist shown in the film does, being an inspiration not only for acid attack survivors but for anyone with a visual difference including those living with vitiligo.