‘Atrangi Re’ was never about mental illness for me, says Aanand L Rai on film’s criticism


PTI, Jan 16, 2022, 2:19 PM IST

image posted on Instagram

Mumbai: Only love can be the panacea of all problems, believes filmmaker Aanand L Rai, whose latest movie “Atrangi Re” was at the centre of controversy for its portrayal of mental health.

The romantic-musical-drama — written by Rai’s long-time collaborator Himanshu Sharma, starring Sara Ali Khan and Dhanush. With Akshay Kumar in a special appearance, the film was described as a twisted and complex love triangle.

Released on December 24 on streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar, “Atrangi Re” received polarised reviews with some criticising how the film deals insensitively with mental health.

In the movie, the 26-year-old Khan plays Rinku Sooryavanshi, a child born out of an interfaith marriage who lives with the trauma of losing her parents at a young age.

After another failed attempt at running away from her maternal family home in Bihar, Rinku is forcefully married to a Tamil man Vishu (Dhanush) but they plan part ways once they reach Delhi where she hopes to meet her lover called Sajjad (Kumar).

In an interview with PTI, the 50-year-old director said the sole purpose of the movie was to explore a mad world of “love”.

“It is actually only love. When we talk about Rinku… there was a big section of people who were talking about mental illness. It was never that for me. That was not the only thing I was trying to come up with. What I was trying to come up with was that only love can bring you out of a lot of complications…

“We have become very smart and intelligent. We want to analyse everything. These are tough times and we want to give logic to falling in love. It is so unfortunate. The only thing that can defy logic is love.” Rai, who has been applauded for churning out interesting characters from hinterland India in films like “Tanu Weds Manu” series and “Raanjhanaa”, said like his previous work love is the driving force for both lead characters Rinku and Vishu.

There is a reason why Rinku belongs to Siwan, a city in Bihar, the director pointed out.

“We wanted to create that world, we wanted to have those things which were or are there. We dealt with the problems that the region is going through or was going through,” he said. The filmmaker, whose last release was 2018’s “Zero”, said what the critics are calling “trauma” can be someone’s entire life.

“Rinku was living a life the way she wanted to. From our perspective, she was going through something. But from her perspective, she was beautifully living her own life with her father around. There was no problem for her but it was a problem for us to see her like this,” he added.

When asked about negative reviews stating how the film doesn’t take mental health issues seriously, Rai said he was prepared for the brickbats.

“I was …deep down was ready for this,” he said, recalling a previous discourse around 2013’s “Raanjhanaa”, which was criticised for its take on stalking.

The director, however, agreed that when he narrates a story about mental illness in future he will “deal with it differently.” “The day I make a film on the issue itself, then it is something else. But here the character is very casual about that. She believes in it.” Asked whether the team discussed the idea about “Atrangi Re” with someone from the medical fraternity, Rai claimed they did.

“We had that session. The story to tell was what love is all about. But how much to use that (mental health) perspective was our call,” he said.

The director said he wanted to celebrate the “magic of love”.

“We have been so calculative about our emotions. Let’s keep other things on the calculator and not love,” he added.

All in all, Rai is happy with the response to “Atrangi Re” as he believes it has managed to touch the hearts of the viewers.

“I am happy with the reaction of the audience, their likes and dislikes. I am liking every bit of it and I am making a note of it. It is overwhelming,” he said.

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