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Global Visiting Scholar advocates for mental health education through film

By: V. Renee Russell
VCU Global Education Office
Phone: (804) 828-3636
vrrussell@vcu.edu

Astu So Be It Marathi Movie

RICHMOND, Va. (Dec. 13, 2016) ― There was not a dry eye in the room as the 2013 family drama, ASTU-So Be It, came to a close. The film chronicles the life of Dr. Chakrapani Shastri, a retired professor suffering from dementia, who goes missing while in the care of his daughter.

The screening was just one part of psychiatrist and internationally renowned film and stage actor Mohan Agashe’s week-long visit to Virginia Commonwealth University as a Global Visiting Scholar during the 2016 fall semester.  Agashe, who plays the film’s lead character, is a mental health advocate who uses film to educate students about the complexities of mental health.

“Film came along as a tool of business, not a tool of education like print media,” said Agashe. “I use film to educate, because it removes the barriers created by print media. It allows students to feel the emotions connected to treating patients with mental illness.”

Agashe’s expertise in the fields of psychiatry and acting are mutually complementary and he is well respected in both circles. He is former chair of the Department of Psychiatry at BJ Medical College and founding director of the Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health both in Pune, India. His film career spans more than four decades, having directed, produced and acted in more than 100 films and stage productions. In 1996, Agashe was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, India’s highest recognition presented to practicing artists.

While visiting VCU, Agashe sought to use visual media as a means of providing an enriched educational experience for students in multiple disciplines, as well as to positively impact student understanding of the challenges associated with behavior disorders.

“He combines a number of different disciplines like medicine, psychiatry, film and acting,” said Ananda Pandurangi, MBBS, MD, professor of psychiatry in the VCU School of Medicine who hosted Agashe.

“I felt that students from a broad range of subjects – medicine, social work, film and acting – would all benefit from his contributions. Plus, having him here is a good way of showing the university’s commitment to advocacy for mental health and reducing stigma surrounding the issue.”

In addition to the film screening, while at VCU, Agashe worked with the National Alliance for Mental Illness–Central Virginia Chapter and met with students in VCU Globe as a guest lecturer, using short movie clips as tools of education.

Agashe values film as a critical tool in educating students, future practitioners and the public about mental illness, because it is a familiar medium and allows audiences to be open. “We’re using the same medium with which we generate stigma to combat stigma,” he said. “The same knife with which we stab, we do surgery. I want to share with people how this medium has helped me to learn better––to be a better human being.”

Agashe’s visit was sponsored in part by the VCU‐PGIMER International Partnership and funded by a Global Education Office Quest Global Impact Award. Proposals for the 2017 Quest Global Impact Awards are currently being accepted through January 15, 2017. 

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