Films have played an important role in highlighting the lives of people with disabilities and aided in dispelling myths and bias that society holds about them. Film as a medium not only enables to illustrate and challenge preconceived societal notions about the disabilities but also serves as a powerful tool for illuminating many of the legal issues the people with disabilities face today. Both Hindi films and regional films have been sought to enhance the sensitivity of society towards the needs, rights, sensibilities and potentialities of people with disabilities through their image portrayal and narratives. Sparsh (1980) Black (2005), Koshish (1972) , Jagriti(1954), Dosti (1964), Main Aisa Hi Hun (2005), My Name is Khan (2010), Paa (2009) ,Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Koi Mil Gaya (2003) are a few Hindi films that dealt with the issues of disabilities. The real struggle that people with disability face in their interaction with society which evokes negative reactions like denial, shame, fear, anger, prejudice and discrimination are vividly portrayed in these films. While traditional Hindu myth has played an important role in shaping social norms and values, Hindi cinema too has injected its share of myths the existing social maladies in the guise of popular culture and society.
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The study identified the range of images in the form of Proppian elements and binary oppositions that films create in the depiction of disabilities, help build awareness among people, and dismantle negative myths. The study also endeavours to trace out how the film narratives conceptualize the frame of disability, the interaction between people with disability and people without disability, the treatment and cure of disability in the course of narration based on moving image analysis and critical discourse analysis. Furthermore, the study discusses the conflict in the priorities between film-makers and other groups in society in view of the issues related to disability in public sphere.
Film is just not a mirror to reflect legal and social realities in some more or less distorted way, (Saul Morson ,1994) but a reminder of the contingencies of our legal and social arrangements. When members of the public have no direct experience with disability, media representations such as film representations provide powerful and memorable definitions (22). Jenny Morris expresses on disability that disability in film has become a metaphor for the message that the non- disabled writer wishes to get across. In doing this, film makers draw on the prejudice, ignorance and fear that generally exist towards disabled people, knowing that to portray a character with a humped back, with a missing leg, with facial scars, will evoke certain feelings with the audience ( Jenny Morris, 1991).
Art form of 20th century has the dual capacity to both reflect and see into our lives ( Kozlovic Anton Karl , 2003). Cinema is one of the key structures of media in understanding of any culture. The portrayal of disability and its related myth could be a major interest to clinicians also in understanding its influences on society. The disability portrayal in the film narrative is mostly determined by the state of the society and the reflection of political and economic factors which are predominant at a specific time in the history of the culture and society.
Since the mid 1970’s, there has been a call from the disabled community for society to recognize disabled people as equals to non-disabled people, and to take responsibility for society’s contribution to creating disabling environment (32). It has given birth to disability arts movement as disquiet over the prevalence of disable imagery in popular culture and the arts of the disabled community that has prompted the development of a positive alternative life-view (Barnes & Mercer, 2001, p.4). Disability art entails using art to expose the discrimination and prejudices people with disability face, and to generate group consciousness and solidarity. (p.13)
There are numerous films both commercial and parallel which portray disability and help to shape public attitude towards disability.
Rajshri Production’s Dosti (1964)1,Gulzar’s Koshish (1972)2, Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh (1980)3 ,Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black (2003), Nagesh Kukoonoor’s physically challenged character in Iqbal (2005)8 , Aamir Khan’s directorial debut Taare Zameen Par (2007) , Rakesh Roshan Krazzy4 (2008)14 are some of the Hindi films in India where the film makers have tried to portray the life of disable people realistically with a varying degree of success. The above films have taken a sensitive view on the differently able people and promoted inclusiveness.
The 1989 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines “disability” as “want of ability, inability, incapacity, impotence” and “disable” as, among other things, “to pronounce incapable; hence to disparage, depreciate, detract from, belittle.” Finkelstein views that disability should be recognized as a social phenomenon because of the nature of the vast majorities of handicapped problems which are mainly of social, educational, employment, architectural and of care character (Finkelstein V. 1975).
Films made on the issue of disability portray society’s attitude towards the subject and examine the history of the interaction between disabilities and film (23). The social model of disability, a revolution both in theory and practice shift in locating disability as the result of an interaction between environment and person has made possible to place the emphasis on the environment and on communication (Shakespeare Tom , Watson Nicholas , 2002). Further, critical disability theory posits partial language on disability viewing political dimension is entrenched to creep onto the identity and inclusion politics of person with disabilities, more than social stigmatization (Pothier Dianne and Devlin Richard ed. 2006). Most of the Hindi filmmakers have employed these two frameworks -the social disability model and critical disability theory in their narrative on disability.
Gerbner, in his studies, found that media images of the mentally ill are more in line with the traditional prejudices than the actual characteristics perceived by mental health professionals.
One of the most challenging aspects of Foucault’s work is that disability is discursively constructed (26). Robert Murphy, an anthropologist, has identified the disabled as “the other”. People with disabilities are conveniently summed up under the discourse of madness as mad persons, a threat to a stable social order (24). Disabled people are a reflection of their societies where the non disabled people are conscious of identifying them as other and disabled (25). By overt statement and implied attitudes of condemnation and mockery, the disabled are thereby denied the right to society’s concern. Jacques Derrida in his concept of “difference” was more concerned with the process of signification and its never-ending sequence and put forward that differences create other differences (33). According to Gerbner, specific symbolic manipulation like “stereotyping,” “prejudice,” or “stigmatization” are required to make people accept social and power inequities ( Gerbner, 1980).
Going by Gerbner’s interpretation of real importance of media in stereotyping is required in terms of knowing the role of media in informing and spreading awareness about the issues related to disabilities. Cinema portrayal of influencing role of social stereotypes can possibly change the attitudes and perceptions of the audience.
Ramasubramianan and Oliver (2003) articulated in their study, the communicability of a model by the protagonist of a film in the context and the meaning of the film depicting a social situation. The behaviors of the leading characters such as heroes perpetuate sexual violence on screen are more likely to be imitated by the viewers (Ramasubramianan and Oliver, 2003).
Raghavendra K. Vice President & Head, Human Resource, Infosys BPO speaks in terms of practicability of cinema in influencing the awareness of society. “Films have the uncanny ability to involve the audience at great depths and influence their minds to comprehend, create mental models and take action,” he says. While Anand Dewan, Senior VP Sales & Management Development Training, Kotak Mahindra Old Mutual Life Insurance LTD. says from his experience about the role of film in organizational development, “Films offer an easy way of learning concepts through visual imagery. This helps people to remember stories and allows for higher and longer retention of ideas, values and concepts”.
In the last couple of years, a flurry of Hindi-language films starring some of the industry’s biggest names have featured differently able characters in positive roles. Many of the films have been box-office hits in India and beyond.
These films attempt to rectify a mindset of the masses in Indian society by encouraging the acceptance of disability rather than a dismissive approach to it as madness.
To assess the interdisciplinary relevance between applied disability model and film theory in film-maker’s execution of plot and narrative treatment.
To assess the influence of the model of disability on film’s narrative and it’s resulted influence on the audience.
To assess the public response towards disability, consequent social activities and policy formulation in relation to the film portrayal.
Methodology: The study is qualitative and descriptive and has followed the case study method. The study employs moving image analysis combines Proppian elements and Levi Strauss’s binary oppositions that films create in the depiction of disabilities and help to build awareness among people, and dismantle negative myths. Central to the analysis of both the narrative and genre is the application of the researcher’s own reading that is a structured approach not only based on formula and application of models, but largely dependent on the development of skills of descriptions and classification. The usefulness of narrative and genre analysis is not only in the revealing of deep structures in the texts, but also in the identification of ideological position and messages within the text (Kracauer, S 1993).
The method of Vladimir Propp has been a universal tool for examining universal narrative, myth and ideologies in moving image products. On the other hand, myth for Levi Strauss is concerned with the relationship between myths and societies they serve and reflect (Levi Strauss, C, 1966).
Case study 1: Khamoshi-the musical (1996)4
This film is about Joseph (Nana Patekar) and Flavy (Seema Biswas) , a deaf and mute couple in Goa. They have a baby girl named Anne ( Manisha Koirala) and a boy named Sam, are able to speak and hear. Because of Joseph’s condition, he takes Anne along with him for selling soap door to door. From an early age, Anne is forced to grow up and be the caretaker of her parents. Her grandmother Maria Braganza (Helen) inculcates in her a keen sense of music. Annie’s life is divided into two worlds – one with her deaf and mute parents and the other with music, which she loves.
Due to their poverty, the family is forced to sell the piano to the antique dealer. By the time Maria passes away. Joseph and Favvy’s son dies in an accident.
Annie gets in touch with music once again with Raj (Salman Khan) whom she falls in love with. Joseph dislikes Raj, mainly because he is Hindu, is able to speak and hear, not a resident of Goa, and the fear of losing Annie forever and thus their contact with the world. When Annie gets pregnant, Joseph is enraged, he asks her to abort, when she refuses, he asks her to leave his house.
Eventually, Annie marries Raj and gives birth to a boy, whom they name Sam, after her brother. She, Raj, and Sam go to Joseph’s house to reconcile with him. Joseph not only accepts Annie’s boy but also finally approves Raj as his son-in-law. Things are really beautiful in their lives when their life takes a drastic turn. Annie and Raj have a devastating accident; Annie is seriously injured and goes into coma. Joseph, Flavvy, and Raj try hard to revive Annie, even trying to stir her emotionally for the sake of Sam. Finally it’s the broken Raj, Joseph’s moving mute ‘speech,’ and Flavvy’s love and hope that bring Annie back to consciousness.
The film does not want to treat disability from medical or social service perspective, instead it looks at disability from cultural formulations and depicts it more as an issue of sensitivity and compassion.
The deaf and dumb characters of Josheph and Flevvy and the world surrounds them are the two main construct of binary oppositions in the narrative of the film. The film starts with disequilibrium at the very outset with Anne, the heroine meets the accident and went to coma. The narrative does not follow the conventional Proppian formula; instead the entire film revolves round the state of disequilibrium and music takes a supreme role to set the tune of equilibrium in the story narrative of the film. The story progression is placed in the flashback.
Other two binary constructs – Life vs. death and Strong vs. weak are apparently steeping on to the film narrative. The life of the character Joseph and Flevvy exist in the world although with disabilities fought with the dead, a complete non-existence of a person, and another voice for them, another identity for them. Non- existence of Grandmother Maria Braganza and Brother Sam in Anne’s life meant loss of a companion and music.
In fact the character Flevvy is placed in contrast to the character of Joseph which compatible to the binary oppositions of male vs. female. Joseph as restless, sentimental, rigid is placed in contrast to compassionate, understanding mother Flevvy.
Light vs. darkness construct the visual progression of the narrative of the film is the vital set of binary oppositions.
Activities of Joseph, one main character has passed through different attitudinal based binary oppositions which are conditioned by his disabilities and by the society he is living.
The film narrative latently placed the sweeping effect of industrialization which made inroads in India. Urbanisation and industrial growth brought about a change in the concept and place of work. The capitalist economic model placed a greater value on individual’s productive contribution to the market economy. People with disability were perceived as non-productive members of society. This takes form in dialogue narrative of the film which portrayed the industrial hazards to Joseph in workplace and the doctor’s recommendation based on his medical lessons (may term as prejudice) against the capabilities of the disability. Here, the concern of the doctor may be taking to medical perspective but it sounds not that accommodative to the people with disabilities. It puts another set of binary opposition which is not apparently dealt in films and that is the medical perspective vs. occupational integration. Being the head of the family with a counterpart who is also disable, occupational integration was a problem in Joseph’s life.
Disability stands as a villain who prevents Joseph and Flevvy living a normal life. Their daughter Anne appears to be the donor  and the provider of happiness who dispel the darkness in their life, making herself a voice to the deaf and dumb couple. Anne act as a family for that couple played a crucial role in supporting its members and giving them a social identity and sense of security. Anne’s act of constant support represents her role as a donor to the family. Anne herself acts as a prince by her beautiful look but finding herself on multiple roles, she reduces from the lavish life of a princess.
Raj appears to be hero  in the film who gives a companion to lonely Anne in her struggling life and brings a ray of hope and lit up Anne’s life. The narrative of the film is limited to a few tight characters, so, the film does not have a false hero  in its sequential development.
Family and religion are the two major forces behind all the decisions and activities of the life of Joseph and Flevvy has been portrayed in story progression. Christian identity of Joseph tells the history of charity based organizations worked with missionary zeal to spread the message of Christ, of love and kindness. Most of the people with disabilities are found Christians is another social reality reflected in the film narrative. The characters in the films are stemmed from a Christian village inhabits fishermen is one convention that predicts the various community formation in society.
Case study 2: Koi Mil Gaya (2003)5
Sanjay Mehra (Rakesh Roshan), a scientist is completely obsessed with establishing contacts with extraterrestrial life and succeeded in devising a computer that can transmit messages to space. But before Sanjay could enjoy his success, he and his wife Sonia (Rekha) meet with an accident where Sanjay loses his life and Sonia survives. This sequence of events create a twist of complication and preparation in the story progression and leads to the ultimate complication when Sanjay’s son Rohit (Hrithik Roshan) is born and grows up to be a young man of limited intellect and childish personality. Rohit has a number of much younger friends, children with whom he plays and who are very loyal to him.
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Rohit is a mentally challenged boy who faces ridicule and torment at every phase of his life, the portrayal of which evolves lots of complication  until Rohit meets Nisha (Preity Zinta) . His lone companion Nisha helps Rohit’s to use his father’s computer. Both of them are completely fascinated by the images and instructions that appear on the screen and experiment with the device and unknowingly summon the aliens. Aliens’ visit their town, while leaving in haste and one of them is left behind. Rohit, Nisha, and Rohit’s young friends find the alien, befriend him, and name him ‘Jadoo’. Jadoo discovers that Rohit is mentally subnormal and uses his powers to enhance Rohit’s mind and made Rohit an accepted young-adult by the society, and thus, the story narrative leads to the phase of transference , another binding element of Proppian methods of fairytale construction. Raj and his buddies attempt to embarrass Rohit multiple times which is portrayed in fights as well as in a basketball game. However, with increased bodily strength , with his mental caliber , with Jadoo’s help, Rohit yields surprisingly the best results surpassing his opponents, frame the phase of struggle in narrative progression.
However, the government has not given up their search for the alien arrival. Police captures Jadoo, who is then rescued by Rohit after he summons the aliens once more to come back for Jadoo, composed the struggle part of the Turner’s proposed elements. Jadoo flees in his returned family’s spaceship and apparently takes Rohit’s new powers with him indicating the phase of return  of the constructed narrative. Rohit is again mentally disabled, which saves him from prosecution by the government. Later, Jadoo restores Rohit’s special abilities permanently and Nisha and Rohit lead a happy life together, thus, frame the phase of recognition .
The character Rohit Verma in the story narrative, a twenty odd year old man with the brain of a twelve year old may not exactly fit the profile of a conventional hero. The most engaging part of the story revolves around Rohit’s quest to be “normal” in the eyes of the world, rather than revolving around the much-hyped alien. Binary oppositions of disabilities vs. abilities is portrayed when Rohit lags behind in school and is teased and ridiculed by other boys. A boy with an adult body has been brought up largely through the support and sacrifices of his mother.
The framing of Rohit’s retardation and peculiarities of physique, behaviour and language, rated as sub-normal behavior or madness reinforce Rohit as ‘different’ based on the medical model of disability.
The creation of binary oppositions of two different Rohit at the centre of commercial masala film, one with the sub-normal behavior of disability and the other as a gorgeous hunk endorsing Rohit with magical powers of mobility and strength, (infused by Jadoo) shifts the frame of salient issues relating to disabilities and gravitate towards the pulls of mainstream commercial cinema.
At the heart of the story of mentally challenged boy, the film depicts the reclamation of patriarchal social values. The mentally retarded Rohit is not understood by the masculinities in the film and is made maligned and relegated to the world of the ‘other’ in the film. The otherness of disabled Rohit stands parallel with the alien entity named ‘Jadoo’ who is misunderstood and hounded by various masculinities in the film.
Neha, who stood as an institution of care for Rohit apart from Rohit’s mother has championed him in the face of the aggressive masculinity of the neighborhood gang of males. In fact, in a dialogue with Rohit , Neha’s declaration that she too want “a physically and mentally strong partner”, obliterating the value of Rohit’s struggles, year after year, to pass and be promoted to a higher class in school, and thus, Neha’s empathy towards Rohit’s condition endorsed conventional social values.
Case study 3: Main Aisa Hi hoon (2005)9
Mentally challenged Indraneel Thakur (Ajay Devgan) works as a waiter in a coffee shop while he raises his daughter Gungun (Rucha Vaidya) as a single parent. Gungun’s mother Maya Trivedi (Esha Deol) after giving birth to Gungun, disappeared and never to be seen again. For seven years Neel has looked after the child and both are happy together. Maya’s father Dayanath Trivedi (Anupam Kher) comes to India to take his granddaughter and gives Neel a court notice. Neel with the help of the people in the town is introduced to Niti Khanna (Sushmita Sen) a lawyer and single mother dealing with her own problems. Niti’s son, Rahul, never used to listen to her. Although initially, Niti didn’t agree to fight for Neel’s case, but when Rahul met Neel and became his friend, Niti realized that she should help Neel. A custody battle ensues and the case is nearing to Dayanath’s win. However, Niti decides to marry Indraneel, as a results, the judge declares that Gungun can be in custody of Indraneel and Niti, which Gungun accepts and takes Niti as her mother and her son as her brother. Dayanath regrets for being mean to Indraneel and accepts him as his son-in-law before flying back to London.
The film ‘Main Aisa Hi Hoon’ delineates the struggles of ‘hero’  Neel, an adult autistic capable of leading a semi-independent life, holding a job in Cafe Coffee Day for the last fifteen years. The shared bond between father Neel and seven- year- old daughter Gungun transcends the obstacles created by the disability, until Maya’s father Dayanath, as a ‘villain’  from London, returns to take custody of his granddaughter Gungun.
The binary oppositions of able vs. disable are drawn tightly through the characterization of Neel and Gungun’s grandfather, Dayanath and of Neel and Niti. Niti’s decision to marry Neel lead Gungun under Neel and Niti’s custody reflects law of land’s no reliance on disabled person. Gungun’s grandfather villainy entry to take Gungun to him reflects his attitude of not to rely on disabled Neel.
The binary oppositions of strong vs. weak are set through the narrative when Neel encounters ridicule as an autistic from schoolchildren, who dismiss him as a mad person. Here, this oppositional construct depicts the society’s attitude towards a disable person.
The binary oppositions of the values of “human intelligence” and “human love” have found expression in the court proceedings for granting custody over Gungun to either her grandfather or to her father Neel.
The concept of ‘other’ and ‘different’ has found expression in the conversations between Ritu didi and Neel, on the ‘normal’ being which is deconstructed. Maya, who gives birth to Gungun and is found, later, in consuming drugs and died because of it, was certainly not normal with her emotional baggage.
The film project the complexities of the problem of disability based on medical model of disability by framing gestures such as hand-clapping, body language, that communicate Neel’s hurt, anger, exhilaration and his effort to comprehend new situations.
Case study 4: Black (2005) 6
The film is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali revolves around a deaf and blind girl Michelle (Rani Mukharjee), and her relationship with her teacher, Mr. Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan), who himself later develops Alzheimer disease. The basis of Michelle existence is “darkness” and “silence”, therefore, turns her into a violent, uncontrollable child, and is turned around only with the guidance of an alcoholic, but patient and intelligent teacher, who later becomes the guiding force of her life – the light that shines into her life through the end of the tunnel.
The film fast-forwards to a time twenty years before, where the messy and wild young Michelle is turned to a calm and eloquent woman. As there is no inclusive education system to accommodate her with formal elementary education, she begins to fall back into her previous state of grief and the feeling of uselessness overpowers her. Noticing this, Mr. Sahai requests the Principal of a University to at least interview her first, and then take a call on her case. Michelle proves her ability and land herself acquiring Bachelor of Arts degree in that University which is the first ever to be offered to a deaf and blind individual.
The film depicts how Michelle struggles to complete a three years course over a span of twenty long years, with patience and determination. She is completely dependent on Mr. Sahai for interpretation of the coursework making her progress even slower. She accomplishes the impossible with the generous and timely help of the Principal, who prepares the whole study material in Braille. This shows the lack of facilities to teach such “differently able” children in the curriculum of inclusive education. The film highlights the need for more trained and professional experts like Mr. Sahai to handle and to bring up such children with disabilities.
There are multitude of overlapping roles and binary oppositions in the characters in the film. The non linear treatment of visual narrative of putting the established ending in the beginning of the film has followed the preparation to the complication . Mr. Sahai himself is playing the role of hero, dispatcher, and donor  in the film while Michelle plays the villainy and the princess in the story progression in the film.
Binary oppositions of importance vs. negligence falls place in the feeling of Michelle’s sister Sarah in understanding family’s concern and treatment towards two different children in a family. The film is entirely based on family based institution of care where the able member of the family feels extremely neglected in front of entire family’s shifted concern to the disabled member.
Binary oppositions of support vs. back down are placed in the treatment and understanding of the psychology of disables in the role of Mr. Sahai and Michelle’s father. Male vs. female and affinity vs. assertiveness are placed in the role of Michelle’s mother and her father in terms of their attitude towards the animal like temperament of Michelle.
The most intriguing part in the narrative treatment of the film is that the film-maker emphasizes more on the concept of “different” and less on “other”. In fact, otherness takes place with the other members in the family except Michelle.
The treatment of disability with elite has equated less with the social stigma but more with the psychology of the person with disability in align to the support system to deliver the care and concern which is solely consolidated on family.
Case study 5: Taare Zameen Par (2007) 13
The film explores the life and imagination of eight-year-old Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary). He is a kid with problems in working with alphabets and numbers, and struggling to live in a world that just thinks he’s lazy, slow, idiot, and duffer. Although he excels in art, his poor academic performance leads his parents to send him to a boarding School. Ishaan’s new art teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) empathizes with Ishaan’s situation who himself dyslexic in his childhood and helps him to overcome his disability, and starts a process of trying to re-instill confidence in him and help him learn.
Ishaan plays the role ‘hero’, develops altercation with the neighbouring kid over a cricket ball , Ishaan problem with learning difficulty which is followed by Ishaan’s parents’ decision to put him in a hostel even after Ishaan’s constant pleas have transited the preparation to complication in the story narrative. Ishaan has to contend with the added trauma of separation from his family which forms phase of transference . The sequence of transference is further filled up by Ishaan going to boarding school, the arts teacher at boarding school punishing him for his inattentive behaviour. Nikumbh’s character gets introduced as a donor and dispatcher , Nikumbh spotted the indolent Ishaan; his travelling to Mumbai to meet Ishaan’s parents adds up to the frames of transference. The learning disability is put as another villainy which is set in direct combat with Ishaan. Ishaan is branded, his qualities are identified, Ishaan pursues to improve and that frame the phase of return as the task imposed upon Ishaan, the hero  is accomplished. Finally, the art competition which reserves emotions of all-time high as Ishaan regains his confidence. At last, at the recognition stage , Ishaan’s talent gets recognized by all those who were blindfolded earlier by the stereotypes’ of the society.
Binary oppositions of success vs. failure have precipitated variously with the character of Ishaan and Yohaan or others in the narrative progression of the story.
Acceptance and rejection, system vs. individuals are another set of binary oppositional constructs lie in the sequential development of the story. Ishaan as a child is rejected not only by his peers and his teachers, but also by his father. Binary oppositions in the characterization of Nikumbh and other teacher are another construct of the story. Nikumbh infects the students with joy and optimism, breaks all the rules of ‘how things are to be done’ by asking them to think, dream and imagine.
In ‘Taare Zamin Par’, the binary oppositions of power vs. powerless, strong vs. weak, intelligent vs. dull are well placed in the characterization of Ishaan in opposition to his friends. Intelligent vs. dull and sincere vs. insincere are placed in terms of the attitude of Ishaan and his big brother Yohaan’s towards studies, their concentration in studies, and their results in the examination. Learning difficulty is put as the cause of these pair of binary oppositions where estimate of talent is set by the society.
Binary oppositions of back up vs. back down, knowledge vs. ignorance are established in understanding the problem of learning disability of Ishaan by the school teachers and the negligence in following principle of the individual difference in treating students in class. Same goes with the parents of Ishaan and Yohaan in terms of family co-habitation, understanding the problem of their child which rest quite prominent in their judgments towards success.
This film has shown a changed social situation where kids of different abilities and disabilities are accepted. The effort to mainstream the people with disabilities by a few sensitive people and institutions are highlighted in the film who have tried to focus on abilities of those different people instead of disab
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