Voices

Bollywood needs to cast actors with disabilities

An image that is divided into two sections. First, is a portfolio photograph of Virali Modi smiling. The second, is a quote on a purple and white background stating 'A slight twitch in the leg by an abled-bodied actor playing a paraplegic may fool the audience, but it doesn't fool me.'

Margarita With A Straw. Black. Guzaarish. The Miracle Worker. The Elephant Man. These are all movies about disabilities of different kinds. The only thing that eats at me is that the protagonists in these movies could have been actual people with disabilities.

Margarita With A Straw. Black. Guzaarish. The Miracle Worker. The Elephant Man. Do these names ring a bell? These are all movies that have something in common – they’re about disabilities of different kinds. These movies are well made, well acted, and their message is beautiful. The only thing that eats at me is that the protagonists in these movies could have been actual people with disabilities, rather than able-bodied actors in wheelchairs or with canes.

For Guzaarish, Hrithik Roshan came to my therapy centre to learn about being a quadriplegic. He was trained by some of my physical therapists, one of the patients at the centre, and a woman with cerebral palsy. Hrithik’s performance in Guzaarish is excellent and he worked hard to portray a disability. But I do think that this movie could have been adapted for someone who is a quadriplegic without all of those magic acts. Like Guzaarish, there are many movies that can be adapted for someone with an actual physical disability.

For the last ten years, my physical therapists, psychologists, and doctors have been telling me that my disability shouldn’t bring any limitations to my life. They’ve said that I can be totally independent in every aspect and trained me for this. My psychologists have told me to embrace my disability and accept that it’s happened. But despite my being independent and confident, why does everyone consider my wheelchair first rather than looking at me?

The only thing that eats at me is that the protagonists in these movies could have been actual people with disabilities, rather than able-bodied actors in wheelchairs or with canes.

I’ve been told by casting directors that I’m pretty and that I have talent but since I can’t walk they aren’t willing to hire me. They are amazed by my confidence and willingness to work, but I’m not good enough for them because I do not have working legs. No one, no matter their age, gender, sexuality, race, caste, and/or disability should have to sacrifice their dreams because of something that they can’t control.

Films are about portraying real life, even if they are meant to be fiction. What’s more real than a disability? It’s not real enough when non-disabled actors are brought in to play people with disabilities; a slight twitch in the leg by an abled-bodied actor playing a paraplegic may fool the audience, but it doesn’t fool me.

At the same time, why should movies be adapted in order for a disabled person to play a role? Films should portray our surroundings, the things we see on a daily basis, and therefore should showcase different actors with different abilities. I’m an actress with a disability; there shouldn’t be a difference between me and an actress who has full use of her legs. We talk about equality between men and women; what about equality between those who are disabled and those who aren’t? If you aren’t willing to think of us as actors, without using the word ‘disability’, then where’s the equality now? Why aren’t you willing to hire someone with a disability, especially if I have the talent and can fit the role?

Featured image credit: Upasana Agarwal

About the author

Virali Modi

Virali Modi is a Quora writer, blogger, motivational speaker, aspiring actress, 1st Runner Up of Ms. Wheel Chair India 2014 and a disability rights advocate. Oh, and she forgot to mention that she is disabled, as if that really matters.

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