"I don't want to use the term 'depression' loosely, because it's a serious illness"
Lights, camera action. The three words any Bollywood star will be familiar with. Supported by makeup artists, stylists and wardrobe consultants, their job is made easier on set. But what about off-set? The everyday look, being confronted by paparazzi and the pressures of social media, how does this impact a star mentally?
Stories from Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma and numerous other film stars have made headlines revealing their struggles with mental illness. Showing that these celebrated names are still human and cannot get away from issues related to mental health.
However, celebrity depression whilst providing huge benefits to increase awareness of mental health does have different causes which would always not be experienced by the everyday person.
We look at areas of Bollywood celebrity life which could be seen as causes of their depression and mental illness.
Pressures of Looking Good
The Bollywood film industry today has huge demands on stars to look good appearance wise as much their acting talents.
Actors and actresses are under major social pressure to look picture perfect no matter where and when.
Dr Monica Kapoor, a cosmetologist, sheds more light on how the stars of today are under more pressure than past stars which can easily cause the development of anxiety and phobia which can ultimately lead to depression.
Looks vs. Performance
Whilst the performance of a Bollywood star is extremely important, looks are just as important today. Dr Kapoor says:
“Existing cut-throat competition in the industry makes it mandatory to excel not only in terms of performance but also looks.”
“Though no one is born perfect, celebrities actually fight to bring up themselves as flawless.
“Even a speck of imperfection on their skin or body creates pressure, under which they tend to go for cosmetic surgeries and treatment.”
Criticism of a star gaining or losing weight, have changed to their bodies, not dressing well, not ‘looking the part’ and social peeks into their private lives all add to the immense pressure.
Dr Kapoor has dealt with a few clients who were severely depressed because of their looks. Revealing her experiences, she says:
“I could clearly see they have so much of social or family pressure that they couldn’t control the tears.”
“The level of stress and anxiety is so extreme that the person starts blaming their looks for every failure in life.”
“For example, if not selected for a role in a specific film/show, looks become the major cause according to them.”
Cosmetic Surgery and Dramatic Weight Loss
This leads to many Bollywood stars having cosmetic procedures to address their insecurities. Dr Kapoor familiar with what many stars opt for, says:
“Some of the common cosmetic procedures our favourite stars go for include lip augmentation, skin whitening treatments, teeth and smile correction, hair transplantation surgery, breast implants, nose correction, jaw correction, dimple creation, smile correction, liposuction, tummy tucks, botox, fillers and many more.”
This is seen by them as a ‘quick fix’ to the problem. But this does not help their mental health.
Because despite how they look on the outside, it does not help them on the inside. Because all it takes is the next film to flop or an article criticising their looks to then spiral the depression back into play.
This can lead to a vicious cycle where the star feels they are ‘not good enough’ and they look at further ways of salvaging their looks or future film roles by having more cosmetic surgery, dramatic weight loss including intense workouts with personal trainers and special diets.
Examples include Kareena Kapoor who was known for her size zero look, Priyanka Chopra’s nose job, Katrina Kaif’s nose and lip surgery, boob jobs of Malaika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu, Kangna Ranaut and Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s weight loss after having her daughter and the shocking transformation of Aamir Khan for Dangal.
For some stars when their careers finish, this often leads to depression. Because they find it very hard to accept they do not look the same or ‘wanted’ like the past. So, for many using cosmetic surgery to conceal their age is the only option.
Pulkit Sharma a clinical psychologist says:
“Being a celebrity, people get very dependent on external admiration to feel good and to keep their self-esteem intact. They get addicted to it and get shattered if that admiration declines.”
Bollywood film schedules are one of the busiest, if not the busiest when it comes to workload.
In the past Bollywood stars could be working on three or more films in one week. From playing an old character in one film in the morning to following a script for a fighting hero in an another film in the afternoon.
The crazy work pressures and demands on actors even today are huge. Where they aim to constantly please audiences, fans on social media and media.
Demands of Work
Even in the middle of shooting his movie Badlapur, actor Varun Dhawan experienced depression. Recalling how he felt, he says:
“I was depressed. I was not clinically declared depressed, but I was heading there. I was very sad to a certain degree.
“I don’t want to use the term ‘depression’ loosely, because it’s a serious illness.
“It definitely affected my mental health. I was prescribed, and did see a doctor for it, as well.”
Dr Anjali Chhabria, a Psychiatrist from Juhu reveals how the difference in work schedules compared to a normal job affects stars mentally:
“You may be busy for 20 days with rigorous shooting and then suddenly you don’t have enough work for the next three months.
“Since they are popular, they can’t take the option of doing ordinary jobs.
“When depression hits, they are too scared to see a doctor and instead, take to alcoholism or substance abuse.”
“Plus they don’t have any family support.
“I get one patient daily who is from the glamour industry. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as for every one person who sees a doctor, there are probably five people who don’t.
“We have more female patients and that’s probably because men think they are too strong to seek medical help.”
Something that is never thought of is the impact of the roles the stars play when it comes to realising their characters for certain movies.
Ranveer Singh had to attend psychotherapy sessions after playing the character role of Alauddin Khilji in the historical epic set in 1303, Padmaavat.
It was reported that due to the intense, dark and menacing character of Khilji, Ranveer began to experience behavioural changes in himself beyond the sets. Showing that the role highly impacted him and his mental health.
Similar to Ranveer Singh, Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda also suffered from mental illness and anxiety after playing roles in his movies Highway and Sarbjit.
Known for his dedication to getting into character to play his roles, Hooda recalls:
“There was a big hangover after ‘Sarbjit’ because of the involvement that was required in the film. It all lingers on.”
“It has happened to me before as well. After ‘Highway’ I was depressed for a long time.”
None other than King Khan, SRK also suffered a bout of depression after the surgery on his shoulder in 2010. The injury affected his mental health as much as his physical health.
After his battle with the illness, he said:
“Due to the shoulder injury, and the suffering, I had got into a depression mode, but now I am out of it. I feel happy and boosted with energy.”
So, whilst we see these stars looking heroic on the screen, you will not know how bad their mental states are unless they open up and tell us what they are going through due to work pressures.
The ups and downs of work and performance demands can lead to issues like depression in stars. Psychiatric consultant Manish Jain says:
“People who are in the limelight are prone to depression. They have the pressure of performing well all the time and anybody can be a victim of this.”
Coping with Failure
Looks are not the only area where the mental illness can become an issue for Bollywood celebrities. Coping with failure is another major contributor to mental health issues like depression.
Failure at the box-office, not making it in Bollywood, loss of earnings, financial debts, no longer getting roles, losing the support of fans and followers and scandals such as financial or sexual are all major ways depression can make its way into the life of a star.
For example, Tiger Shroff suffered “hard-core depression” when his film A Flying Jatt tanked at the box-office and the numbers were not what he expected. It led him to him losing drive and also severe bouts of binge and emotional eating.
SRK had an episode of depression after he released RA.One in 2011. Recalling the time he says:
“It did go a little wrong with RA.One. It made 172 crores at the box-office but still people call it a wrong film. It went wrong because it was different.”
“I was depressed for three months after the release of the film. As a matter of fact, till date I’m depressed and upset.”
Bollywood actress Parineeti Chopra revealed her experience of depression with Karan Johar on his chat show saying:
“After Daawat-e-Ishq and Kill Dil flopped, I hadn’t seen such a phase in my career.”
“I went through a low phase on my personal front, my financial situation, my house, everything; all the departments in my life were down.”
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan became a victim of depression when he faced major financial losses.
The highly regarded actor set-up his production company ABCL in 1996. However, by 2000 trying to cope with the back-to-back failure of his films and bad business deals involving the company, Amitabh went bankrupt and subsequently entered a phase of deep depression.
Recalling the time he said:
“In the year 2000, when the entire world was celebrating the new century, I was celebrating my disastrous fortune.
“There were no films, no money, no company, a million legal cases against and the tax authorities had put notice of recovery on my home.
“There was a sword hanging on my head all the time. I spent many sleepless nights.”
Lack of Success
Another well-known case of a Bollywood star who found it hard to cope as a “failure” is that of Jiah Khan, a British born actress who was murdered by her boyfriend although it was initially seen as a suicide because she took her own life.
Jiah made it big in her debut 2007 co-starring with Amitabh Bachchan in Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd. Where sex appeal was seen as the reason for her success in a Lolita role instead of her acting.
After which she appeared as the second lead in Ghajini in 2008 and two years later in a minor role in Housefull. After this, her roles dried up and her career went downhill.
This led to a turbulent life for the star at the young age of 25. It’s said that the star became seriously depressed and deeply unhappy.
Ram Gopal Varma said on Twitter that she had confided to him that:
“Everyone around her makes her feel like a failure.”
With awareness of a mental illness like depression not taken so seriously at the time in 2013, many still wonder, if the actress could’ve been saved from what resulted in her death. Be it personal issues or simply not being accepted in an industry that just saw her for her sex appeal.
Psychiatrist Dr Gaurav Kulkarni who has treated many celebrities for depression says that not becoming successful in Bollywood hits actors who want to make it, hard:
“As many come to Mumbai hoping to make it big in Tinseltown, not everyone tastes success. As the reality hits them, many are in denial and suffer from depression, leading to suicidal tendencies.”
Commenting on how stars to do not take their mental health sessions seriously, he says:
“To add to this, TV and film stars have to keep up with a certain lifestyle. The bigger problem is that these stars stop coming for subsequent sessions.
“They start taking alcohol and drugs and reach a stage where they are beyond help. Sadly, they all are in the age group of 20 to 35.”
Dr Ketan Parmar a Psychiatrist from Mumbai talks about how failure in popularity causes mental health problems for Bollywood stars, especially for women:
“The stars find it hard when their popularity starts waning. It causes stress and depression. They are trapped in a rat race.”
“Female stars suffer more because they have a smaller span of time to attain success. Men play lead roles till 50, but despite being beautiful and fit, 30-plus actresses find it difficult to bag lead roles.
“Once you are out of work, there is no source of income. As we saw in an actress’ case two years ago, as extreme measures, they take to prostitution to make both ends meet or eventually commit suicide”.
Family History and Personal Battles
Not every Bollywood star encounters mental illness issues due to their work and career.
Family history and personal battles can contribute hugely to Bollywood celebrity depression as well.
Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma opened up about her anxiety which can cause depression and its link to family history. She once tweeted how depression felt, saying:
“Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer.”
Anushka then revealed her issues with anxiety:
“I have anxiety. And I’m treating my anxiety. I’m on medication for my anxiety.”
“Why am I saying this? Because it’s a completely normal thing. It’s a biological problem. In my family, there have been cases of depression.”
The actress who married cricket star Virat Kohli feels that talking about mental health is very important as much any physical illness and wants to raise awareness of it, saying:
“More and more people should talk openly about it. There is nothing shameful about it or something to hide.
If you had a constant stomach pain, wouldn’t you go to the doctor? It’s that simple. I want to make this my mission, to take any shame out of this, to educate people about this.”
Personal Issues and Battles
Another major aspect of depression can be due to triggers in life that have anything connected to the work of an actor, director or producer but simply personal issues they never addressed in their lives.
She writes in her post that it put her in situations she “never wished or chose to be in”.
She reveals how she was “popping 5 anti-depressants every day” and experienced:
“anxiety attacks, being rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night, feeling empty, restless, anxious and hallucinations, having sore limbs from sleeping too much or not being able to sleep for weeks, from overeating to starving myself, unexplained fatigue, body ache, self-loathing, nervous breakdowns, suicidal thoughts.”
Speaking about it further she expresses:
“Depression and anxiety is not a feeling, it’s an illness. It’s not somebody’s choice or fault. It can affect anyone, anytime.”
Another example is Bollywood filmmaker and producer Karan Johar. He opened up and talked about his battle with depression, saying:
“There was a phase in my life when I was really depressed.”
“When I went through that phase, I thought I am getting a cardiac arrest.
“I felt it in the middle of a meeting two and half years ago, after which I left the meeting in between saying I have something urgent to do and rushed to the doctor.
“He then said I am having an anxiety attack.
“I went to a psychologist post that. Then I realised that I had some internal issues to deal with, which got built up to such point that it resulted in anxiety.”
Speaking of how the sessions with the psychologist helped, Johar says:
“Those sessions made a big difference to me. During those sessions, we touched on many things of my life.
“I felt that I did not deal entirely with the loss of my father, though it’s been 11 or 12 years, I felt the pain and hurt of certain relationships that had dwindled from my life and I was carrying all that baggage.
“And the fear of future, the fear that I was not being able to find a life partner. At one point the lack of love in my life was really bothering me.
“Today I feel a lot more free of it. I feel there are loads of other things to look forward to.”
Bollywood star Ileana D’Cruz recalls sitting in the corner crying for hours alone. Being diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, mental illness has affected her hugely. She says:
“I think it’s important for everybody to get themselves checked – mental health is something that’s very important.
“Anxiety has been a big problem for me, but I think my biggest struggle has been depression.
“For me, my depression doesn’t revolve around my work, it revolves around me personally.”
Another example of a personal battle with depression is that of Bollywood hunk Hrithik Roshan. He says:
“I have experienced depression and confusion. It’s a normal thing and we should be very casual when we speak about it.
“I have experienced issues in my life. We all go through ups and downs in our lives. The ups and downs are important because we evolve through both of them.
“When you go through a down it is important to have a clarity of thought. Sometimes your brain takes over and it kinds of feeds you with unwanted thoughts.
“[Your brain] feeds you with thoughts which are not aligned with what you want to do in life and that is the time you need an objective point of view or a third person to look at you and tell you that this is what has happened because you lose awareness at that time.”
Actress Shama Sikandar has suffered from her personal battle with bipolar disorder which included a suicide attempt. Talking about her illness she says:
“I did not know what was the reason behind this, but I felt directionless.”
“I felt hopeless and I hope that never happens to anybody because hope is what we survive on and if we don’t have hope we have nothing.
“The feeling was so dark that I would wake up at night and start crying without knowing why I am crying. Only someone who has gone through it can understand and how I feel it is”
Off-screen Bollywood stars aim to live their lives as any other person and one area of life that can impact mental health for stars too, is that of relationships. Especially, breakdowns, divorces and affairs which hit the headlines and are in the spotlight.
Relationship issues are a major cause of depression and other mental health issues.
Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala was diagnosed with clinical depression which was caused by her ex-husband Samrat Dahal.
Speaking about depression and seeking help, she says:
“I would like to say that it is very common in every household, in the younger generation, the older generation, and we normally tend to hide and not come forward and seek help.
“Also when we know that someone from our family is suffering from depression, we always brush it under the carpet. I think we need to take professional help.
“We shouldn’t be shying away from depression.”
Talking about her low points, she said:
“A broken relationship and depression. Those were the two very low points of my life.”
Recalling the onset of depression in her life, Deepika said:
“I thought it was stress, so I tried to distract myself by focusing on work, and surrounding myself with people, which helped for a while.
“But the nagging feeling didn’t go away. My breath was shallow, I suffered from lack of concentration and I broke down often.”
“Being sad and being depressed are two different things. Also, people going through depression don’t look so, while someone sad will look sad.”
After his breakup with Karisma Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan was deeply hurt and dropped into a depressive episode. It is said to have completely withdrawn from all kinds of social gatherings.
Young Bollywood actress Sonal Vengurlekar of Yeh Vaada Raha fame talked about her breakup with Sumit Bhardwaj of Beyhadh and its impact on her mental state, saying:
“I slipped into depression post break-up and was more heartbroken to learn that he moved on quickly and started dating someone else.
“When in love, your entire revolves around that one person. So, it was like the world had ended for me. I stopped mingling with my friends and even family.”
Divorce can have a huge impact on a person and lead to mental health issues. Actress Divyajyotee Sharma fell into a long-term depression after hers.
“I couldn’t gather courage to move forward after my divorce. Despite my brave attempt to move to a strange city, I was in depression for five long years.”
Legendary actress Meena Kumari was left brokenhearted and soon went into depression after she was divorced by her husband Kamal Amrohi who was a filmmaker she fell in love with.
With over 300 million people suffering from depression worldwide according to World Health Organisation, there is no doubt that Bollywood celebrity depression is going to be immune from this, if not a further increase in cases after the causes discussed.
It is hoped that as awareness and understanding increases of mental health issues like depression, Bollywood stars see themselves as being included with those who need help and do not view it as a weakness or something they can ignore.
One of the biggest steps required when it comes to mental well-being is the ability to admit you have a mental illness like depression and getting help. Bollywood celebrity or not.