A doctor comes out of the OT (a red bulb switches off), takes off his glasses and morosely pronounces, "Inhe dawaon ki nahin, duaon ki zaroorat hai." This is the cue for the kin to break for a kirtan (Asha Parekh) or a diatribe against God (Amitabh Bachchan). But what are the diseases being fought? Apart from accidents, and pregnancy (which is treated as a disease), what are the other afflictions? In short, what ails Bollywood?


The Big C is undoubtedly the most popular disease for the absolute surety it brings to the death of the protagonist. Rajesh Khanna would have to be the brand ambassador of the disease, with deadly performances in two landmark films—Anand and Safar. These had everything an ideal cancer patient should exhibit—stoicism, joie de vivre and an ability to sacrifice everything on his way out. Anand even had a name for the illness—lymphosarcoma of the intestine. And he was very proud of the regal sound of it: "Jaise kisi viceroy ka naam ho . . ."

Amitabh Bachchan got the disease (lung cancer) himself in Waqt: The Race Against Time. And he had nine months to make his son stand on his own two feet before he died. In those nine months, his son fell in love, went on a honeymoon and became an action star who did his own stunts. Wow.

Brain Tumour

The other ‘fatal’ disease in Bollywood is brain tumour. In two movies—Kaash (directed by Mahesh Bhatt) and Anjali (directed by Mani Ratnam)—it is a child that has the tumour, making things all the more tragic. While the former had a star couple trying to patch up a marriage for the sake of their son, the latter had a group of siblings starting to accept their terminally ill sister back into their household. Both gut-wrenching.

The Big B had a brain tumour with a bizarre twist in Majboor. When diagnosed with the disease, AB was faced with an operation with limited chance of success and potential paralysis. Instead, he chose to confess to a millionaire’s murder and redirect the informer’s reward to make his mother’s and siblings’ lives secure. On death row, he had a seizure, was operated upon and had his tumour successfully removed. Now, he was in jail wrongly accused of murder (which he had confessed to, himself) and a healthy life ahead of him. Kya hua next?

Heart Diseases

Usually, the extreme form of this is used to dispatch Daddy when the baaraat goes back for want of dowry or when the daughter runs away to marry out of caste. Nazir Hussain specialized in rolling his eyes, stopping mid-sentence, clutching the left side of his chest and collapsing in a heap. There are way too many scenes like that to keep count. The long-drawn-out heart disease is used to keep the viewer in suspense over the fate of the patient. This disease is also a money-sink for which the patient’s relatives have to adopt desperate measures. Shah Rukh Khan’s tragic act in Kal Ho Naa Ho remains the beacon of cardiac plot lines of all time. He cracked jokes with Saif, wooed Preity and generally acted like the Good Samaritan, but when your cardiologist Dr Sonali Bendre leaves you for Sanjay Kapoor, you should commit suicide if not die of a terminal illness.

Sometimes kids get afflicted with these as well. Ajay Devgn’s nephew in Pyar To Hona Hi

Tha had a hole in his heart, for which Ajay went around stealing stuff. Like the adult patients of this disease, this kid also turned out to be good-natured, his part leading to a greater number of wet hankies.


The signature line of this disease is "Main kahan hoon? Main kaun hoon?’" accompanied by a take on the first question and a double take on the second. Sadma had a case of selective amnesia, where Sridevi forgot everything between age five and her current age. Evil reviewers commented that there was not too much of a gap between her mental age and that of a five-year-old, anyway. But her act as a little girl in a twenty-one-year-old body was quite good, although all people remember from that film are Yesudas’s songs.

Another movie with star amnesia—actually ‘retrograde amnesia’ (whatever that means)—was Salaam-e-Ishq (which has also been referred to as Salaam-e-Eeks). Vidya Balan remembered everything in her life except John Abraham. Our dude had to do what he never did before . . . he tried to remind a girl of himself. Maybe Vidya had a secret affair with Hrithik and wanted to forget John. Either that, or women forget their husbands two years after marriage.

The most hilarious amnesiac of them all was Aamir Khan in Andaz Apna Apna. He pretended to lose his memory after Raveena Tandon hit him on the head with a stick, and thus became her house-guest. Since he did not even remember his own name, he was christened Teelu (because he was found on a teela) and had to be treated by Dr Prem Khurana (who was ‘Iss dhande mein bahut purana!’).


It started off with Dosti and has carried on beyond Fanaa. Most of the biggies of Hindi cinema—Rajesh Khanna (Mere Jeevan Saathi), Sanjeev Kumar (Qatl), Amitabh Bachchan (the unreleased Zamaanat), Mumtaz (Jheel Ke Us Paar), Madhuri Dixit (Sangeet), Kajol (Fanaa), Naseeruddin Shah (Sparsh), Rani Mukherji (Black), Akshay Kumar (Aankhen), Deepika Padukone (Lafangey Parindey)—have played blind people. And some of them have pretended to be blind as well (Amitabh Bachchan in Parvarish and Mehmood in Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong).

Ship of Theseus told the remarkable story of a blind photographer who got her sight back thanks to a donated cornea—but that created a new problem. Aida Al-Kashef—who is an Egyptian film-maker—played the blind woman with a rare sensitivity and the blindness was shown—well—in new light.

Nirupa Roy turned blind on screen—when a tree descended on her—and then regained her eyesight after she fervently prayed to Shirdi wale Sai Baba. In Amar Akbar Anthony, twin flames emerged out of the eyes of the Baba, travelled all the way to the back of the prayer hall and inserted themselves in her eyes. And she saw again! Zor se bolo jai Baba ki! Phir se bolo jai Baba ki!


One reason why AIDS is yet to catch on as a life-ending disease in Bollywood is because of the doubt it brings about the patient’s character. Imagine Bhaskar Banerjee thinking about Anand, "Hmmm, the bugger was getting it on the sly . . . that’s how he got the virus . . ." Poof!

All the poignancy and sympathy would fl y out of the window. Hence, it has been seen only in serious movies dealing specifi cally with the problems associated with the disease. Phir Milenge (directed by Revathy) had Salman Khan infecting Shilpa Shetty with the virus after a one-night stand, but the movie was so sparsely watched, nobody thought of burning their effigies for promiscuity and moral turpitude.

Onir’s My Brother Nikhil was probably the first Indian movie to show a gay relationship realistically, without either of the partners being portrayed a pansy, or cracking any jokes about homosexuality. Sanjay Suri delivered a first-rate performance as the award-winning sportsman who got ostracized because of his disease.

Extracted with permission from Bollybook: The Big Book of Hindi Movie Trivia by Diptakirti Chaudhuri, Penguin Books India.