IMH hot spot for filmmakers

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The sprawling campus of the Institute of Mental Health has been a hot favourite among Tamil filmmakers, thanks to its forested locales and dilapidated charm. Numerous television serials have been set at the IMH and filmmakers from the Telugu and Malayalam film industries have also shot films here.

Right from Mani Ratnam’s ‘Iruvar’ starring Mohanlal and Aishwariya Rai to newer movies like Bala’s comedy ‘Avan Ivan’ and Sasikumar’s ‘Poraali’, dozens of hit movies feature elaborate sequences shot at the Institute of Mental Health, sometimes for more than two months, says Rudhran, the director of the film Vettriselvan.

“It is an ideal place to shoot because of the old buildings, many of which are abandoned — no patients are housed there. We have obtained all the necessary permission from the secretariat and have paid the rent that was quoted. We have done nothing wrong,” insists Rudhran, alleging that a few medical officers were creating a controversy because of internal politics.

“We are also sensitive to the patients’ feelings. Why would we want to ridicule them or conduct shooting at night?” he asks.

Senior psychiatrist Dr Nambi, recalls that numerous films were shot at the institute in the past 40 years and the funds collected were used to help rehabilitate patients.

“The film crews used to conduct their shooting in a corner of the campus and none of the patients were photographed,” he says.

However, senior doctors who have headed the premier Government General Hospital in the city admit that having a film crew shooting at a hospital that is overcrowded with sick people, can be trying.
“Having more than 50 people wandering around the hospital, exposing our patients to infection, is not easy to deal with,” says a former hospital dean.

“When I was with the IMH, the money collected would be distributed among patients who are cured and need money to go in search of their homes. The funds were needed to buy tickets and to send the patient with hospital attendants,” he says.

Shoots can help do away with stigma

Mental health activists suggest that the administration of the IMH take the opportunity of film shoots to remove the stigma against mental illness.

“The patients at IMH need to be safeguarded against possible hazards, such as wiring and equipment during film shoots, but any interaction with people from outside could be looked at in a positive light,” says Vandana Gopikumar, co-founder of Banyan.

“The patients usually love visitors and are very excited at the sight of cameras. They are so cut off from the outside world, and having a crew shooting a film within the premises can be a rare treat,” adds Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a member of the Disability Rights Alliance.

She recalls how she was denied permission to visit the hospital on grounds of ‘safety issues’, and wonders how an entire movie crew can be allowed to walk in and out as they please, and continue filming throughout the night.

The safety of the patient should be top priority — the shoots should not disturb their sleep. The staff has to monitor any male-female interaction that may occur as well, Vandana adds.
“The patients cannot be photographed without their consent. If they are unable to understand, someone responsible should decide for them,” she says.

When a film crew is shooting within the campus, small gestures like sharing their food with the inmates could go a long way.

“Our filmakers need to be more responsible while portraying mental illness on screen. They should do their research about a psychiatric condition, and portray it with sensitivity, so that something good comes out of it,” says Vaishnavi.

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