Entertainment

Atrangi Re writer Himanshu Sharma on claims film trivialises mental health: ‘I wasn’t making a documentary on mental illness’

National Award winner Himanshu Sharma responds to accusations that his latest film directed by Aanand L Rai, Atrangi Re, trivialises mental disorders. The film stars Sara Ali Khan, Dhanush and Akshay Kumar. The writers says there is more to the ‘human story’ that is Atrangi Re, explaining how it ‘talks about love, loss, and trauma’. He also appealed for less judgment and a deeper gaze at cinema, especially from critics.

Excerpts from the interview:

What do you have to say about the claims that Atrangi Re trivilaises mental disorders?

When I chose this story and this concept, I wasn’t making a documentary on mental illness. Understanding of human anatomy does not guarantee that you’ll understand human beings. There is so much more to the film, to that story called Atrangi Re, it talks about love, loss, and trauma, and how trauma can create so many difficulties for you and how love can fix all of those problems. In my head, I used  mental issue as a tool, a sugar-coating through which I am telling you about even deeper things. So, at times while I was manoeuvring my way, it doesn’t mean I am not paying attention to it or that I am not being honest towards it.

Please look at the characters in the film, all the characters, like Dhanush’s Vishu or his friend Madhu (played by Ashish Verma), they all have so much sympathy for the girl. They are dealing with her with utmost sympathy. The idea is that you have to see the film for what it is and not what you want it to be. It is important to see the deeper meanings.

I also feel that there is a shallow kind of gaze. At times I feel that the way people expect new stories from us, we as storytellers need new perspective to review it. You are old and blunt to review new stories, and that’s a shame, that’s heart breaking. However, 90% of the reviews that came in, I was very happy with them. The advent of technology has changed the whole business and the way we viewed audience reaction, it has opened up everything. When I came, in 2005- 2006, it was a closed industry. With digitisation, people like us got a chance to make films, with a digital camera. Same way, right now, I think, we need a new set of eyes, a new set of reviewers to watch these new stories. Because, at least, I am done with this boring, banal and shallow reviewing of our stories. That’s all I have to say, that there was so much more in the story, of course mental illness was also there, but that was not the only thing. And please understand the idea of how symbolically the makers are using it.

Both the characters, Vishu and Madhu, are doctors and bring the medical perspective there. Then shouldn’t we be more careful in addressing and presenting mental diseases?

But that is the way people would understand it. I cannot be elite and too academic in my dialogue or the way I am presenting it. It has to reach the last man, sitting in a small village, trying to understand this film. I have to speak in their language. I have to speak in a language that can reach n number of people. That’s the quest of every filmmaker, that I should be able to reach a large number of audience, and I think this is how I could have reached them, by making it that simple. You may say it trivialises the issue, but I would just like to say that I was trying to make these difficult topics simple, so that it can be accessible and can reach a larger number of people.

You also need to see the intent of the people. Of course, no human being is perfect, neither am I, nor are you. We will make mistakes but you have to see my intention. As I always say, the kind of good films I watch and I want to make, I don’t think I am that intelligent. I will also have to do more hard work, and that should be the quest for everyone. I want to watch great films and I want to make those films. In that process, I’ll make a few mistakes, but did you see my intent? I always believe that facts should never stop you or blind you from seeing the truth. There is a difference between truth and fact, please try finding the truth in these stories, facts are mere propaganda, agenda, a 500 word essay, it is too academic. Films, meanwhile, should speak human language and that is imperfect.

During Raanjhanaa, people felt he (Dhanush’s Kundan) is a stalker. But, have they been to schools or not, or is all their education happening through films? And apart from that, there is a certain language that I can give to that man. He can’t speak like Shashi Tharoor, he is a boy from Benares who has not even passed 10th standard. He will have a certain language, he will be politically incorrect, and I cannot help it because otherwise I will look fake, that character will look fake, it will not connect. The idea is not in the lines, the idea is to see the intent. There is so much judgement, for the longest time I haven’t seen people watching a film just to watch a film. We need to learn how to see a film without judgement, to immerse in the story and to feel it, seek the deeper truth in any film.

There are other issues you have touched in the film but these didn’t get addressed properly, like honour killing.

Again, as I said, I am not making a documentary. It is a story, and it is not like I decided to make a film on mental illness or honour killing, it was never the intention. I am a storyteller, and I have a story to tell. These issues happened to be there. I am not making a flag or an agenda, or a propaganda, I am making a story, and these few things, all of it, will be there in it, in some way or the other, in their different amount of dosage, they will be there, as you said — sprinkled — it was all over, but the thing is that the organic story will decide and dictate how much will be what. Whatever the story allows me will be at the forefront, everything else will be in the background, as I am using them as tools to tell my story, the bigger truth, that I need to say.

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