Ronak Shah’s debut feature film broaches taboo topic: mental health

LOS ANGELES—If film is a conversation starter then Indian American filmmaker Ronak Shah is attempting to break the ice on a topic some find taboo or not worth acknowledging. Can a film like Love Goes Through Your Mind, which screens at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on April 14, bring South Asians to the table and spark a necessary but meaningful discussion on mental health and its effects on individuals, families and society at-large?

Ronak Shah, director.

Ronak Shah, director.

Shah, who wrote and directed Love Goes Through Your Mind, deep dives into one family’s struggle with bipolar disorder - specifically the persistent denial of the diagnosis and repeated attempts to brush off any warning sign as a threat to curated societal narratives of perfection.

Love Goes Through Your Mind spawned from Shah’s own observations in India and New Jersey, where she grew up and went to school before moving out to Los Angeles for her film career. She recalled a few hot-button discussion items being off limits within her immediate and extended family. Asking about an extended family member’s possible blemishes were taboo. There were always expectations to be perfect, Shah explained. No one was allowed to have a flaw, let alone a mental health diagnosis - such was the sweep-under-the-rug mindset of South Asian families.

“[The film’s point] is totally to bring light to this in our community,” Shah told AH1 about the meaning behind Love Goes Through Your Mind. “This is a challenging life event. This is not something one person should go through alone.”

There should be no shame in addressing or discussing mental health, Shah continued. Allowing signs or diagnoses of mental health issues to go unaddressed only makes the situation worse, as Shah’s film points out. Maintaining an image of societal perfection, which is certainly a theme in South Asian culture worldwide, can be overpowering, causing families to look the other way at times when they should be doing the exact opposite.

Now Love Goes Through Your Mind doesn’t present any solutions - and to expect the film to offer such an end game would be misplaced, to be sure. Shah, if anything, is noble in her quest to bring attention to a topic millions of people still struggle to accept, or, even worse, refuse to acknowledge.

The Mumbai native who grew up in New Jersey certainly went through the motions, herself, with familial pressures and societal expectations. Shah was born in India and moved to the United States at age 14. There were initial expectations for Shah to pursue a secure and steady professional career path, but the U.S.-based filmmaker always knew she’d be in the arts.

Her passion for painting eventually morphed into an appreciation for storytelling - and establishing herself as a filmmaker, to Shah, was the best avenue to manifest a love for telling stories. Earning degrees from the Parsons School of Design in New York City and UCLA certainly gives her the academic credentials to bolster her pursuits, but Shah’s love for the arts and storytelling transcends anything she learned in school - and we see some of this in Love Goes Through Your Mind (screenplay by Shah and Shruti Swaminathan).

Find out more about Shah’s film, which stars Ariela Barer and Azim Rizk in lead roles, and the Indian Film Festival in general at www.indianfilmfestival.org. The festival opens April 11 and runs through the weekend. Most films will screen at Regal L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles.