“Laughter only serves to remove the sting of tragedy” – Entertainment News, Firstpost
“I am used to such accusations. When Raanjhanaa was released, I was accused of legitimizing criminal harassment, ”explains Aanand L Rai.
Sara Ali Khan and Akshay Kumar in Atrangi Re
Atrangi Re, your last director, opened up to mixed responses. Critics either love it or hate it. How do you react to these comments?
As long as no one is indifferent to it, I’m fine. When I went to make this film, I didn’t think about the reaction of the people. I never do. I cannot be tied to expectations, mine or others. I have to do what I have to do. I had to make a film about this girl that you can’t force to conform. For a long time, I wanted to make a film on the theme of father and daughter. When my writer Himanshu Sharma came up with this idea, I knew I had to make this film.
As Rinku, isn’t Sara Ali Khan everywhere?
I wanted this uncontrollable personality. That’s why she was chosen. I have to say it was a delightful experience working with her, and with Akshay Kumar and Dhanush, who quite easily rank among the best talents in Indian cinema.
Did you know that Rinku is the nickname of Sara’s grandmother, Sharmila Tagore?
I did not know. Sara told me while filming. She was very shocked.
Dhanush is brilliant. I take it you wrote his character as Tamil to accommodate Dhanush?
Enough to watch over him. In my next film, he will have to watch over me. Seriously, Dhanush is a natural wonder. What he brought to Atrangi Re is beyond anything I expected. As for Akshay, you know, like me, he doesn’t think about himself. He only thinks of the film.
Akshay is a small role. How did you get it accepted?
I didn’t have to convince him. He wanted to be part of Atrangi Re. I wanted some magic in the character he was playing. Akshay brought this magic.
People wonder how and why did you show the kidnapping of married couples in Bihar nowadays, when it has long been abolished?
But where did I say my film takes place in the present? My films never follow a timeline. In my movie, the kidnapping of the groom and what follows happens. This is the world I wanted to create with my writer Himanshu Sharma. You can have creative and historical baffles with my world. But I think discussion is a healthy part of any creative endeavor.
I’m glad people are talking about Atrangi Re, Good or bad. I would be worried if they had nothing to say.
The film deals with the very serious problem of schizophrenia. And yet, why is this word not mentioned anywhere?
I know. I wanted it that way. If as you say it is schizophrenia then the people around it do not recognize it by that name. Her grandmother, played by Seema Biswas, calls it madness. The characters in the film have probably never heard of schizophrenia. I wanted it to be that way.
The mental disorder and the behavior that results from it make us laugh and cry at the same time. I have never experienced anything like it.
At first when I was just starting to shoot Atrangi, I showed rushes to a friend who laughed and cried. He confessed that he felt guilty for laughing at a character’s mental disorder. But laughter is not meant to take away the gravity of the situation. It is intended to remove the sting of tragedy.
Have many accused you of trivializing a mental disorder? What is your answer ?
I am used to such accusations. When my Raanjhanaa was released, I was charged with legitimizing stalking.
A reviewer accused you of spreading incest in Atrangi Re?
(Laughs). It didn’t occur to me. Most of the reviewers here are not qualified to rate the movies. These things don’t bother me. I won’t stop making the films I want. I will not live in fear of failure. For half of my life I have been afraid. I will not be afraid as a filmmaker. I want to make the films we’ll be talking about long after I’m gone.
In the end credits, you paid tribute to your team members AR Rahman, Irshad Kaamil, (cinematographer) Pankaj Kumar, (editor) Hemal Kothari and the writer Himasnhu Sharma by pointing to Atrangi Re like their movie? Why did you feel the need to do this?
It was not a gimmick intended to impress the public how generous I am. I really feel like the movie couldn’t have been made without them. Rahman Sir’s music takes my film to another level. I told him I didn’t want any singles going up the charts. I wanted a soundtrack album, where music and songs move the story forward.
Any regret regarding Atrangi Re not be able to go out in cinemas?
Of course, I wanted it to hit theaters. It’s there that Atrangi Re belongs. Having said that, I don’t think there was a choice in the matter. The OTT platform does not reduce the impact of my film.
Atrangi Re airs on Disney + Hotstar.
Subhash K Jha is a journalist based in Patna. He’s been writing about Bollywood long enough to know the industry inside and out.