A post-release conversation with Himanshu Sharma, the writer of Atrangi Re

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Atrangi Re’s screenwriter thinks the trickiest part of the film was getting audiences to understand all this father-daughter angle



Priyanka Roy

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Posted on 01.01.22, 01:01 AM


Intense love is at the heart of Atrangi Re, who combines multiple threads, including surrealism and a look at sanity, to tell her original story. While the Aanand L. Rai-directed film, now airing on Disney + Hotstar, has won accolades for its unique premise and stellar acts of Dhanush, Sara Ali Khan and Akshay Kumar, there have been criticisms for its casual treatment of mental disorders. health. The telegraph chatted with film writer Himanshu Sharma – whose pen produced films like the Tanu marries Manu series, Raanjhanaa and Zero – on the positive and spicy parts of the film.

Atrangi Re sparked conversations, some of which were negative. But it’s better than making a movie that doesn’t arouse any emotion in the audience, isn’t it?

Yes of course! I’m glad there are a lot of people who understood the movie more than it is on the surface … they went deeper, they understood the nuances of the movie and enjoyed what we tried to demonstrate on screen. They went beyond wrapping the film …

It has been a delicate subject to do. There is so much about love, about trauma, about how you navigate to find true love … Of course, the movie deals with mental illness. But a writer has to maneuver through so many things. There are times when writing a film that there are issues that need to take a back seat. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think about it or that I don’t care.

You have to understand that with Atrangi Re, we weren’t doing a docu-fiction. I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t let the facts blind you to the truth. This is my overall reaction to some of the reviews. There are a few who judged the film completely at the surface level.

Some have felt that Atrangi Re trivializes mental health and that humor is used callously to portray something that is not only traumatic but remains taboo in our society. There’s also the petty medical quackery associated with mental health, which has infuriated many …

Why don’t we talk about the sympathy the other characters in the movie have for this person? (Rinku by Sara Ali Khan) A film is aimed at a large part of the audience. A film shouldn’t look like propaganda, it shouldn’t give the impression that it has a program. We weren’t doing a documentary about mental illness, but at the same time, our goal has always been to present the problem in the most human way. Being able to understand human anatomy doesn’t mean you understand human beings. The human mind is very, very complex and we were making a film about it. We have a hero (Vishu, played by Dhanush) who has so much sympathy and sensitivity towards this girl.

As for those who talk about how we used humor in the film, I firmly believe in tempering the more traumatic parts, the harshest truths, with a certain lightness. If you talk about a difficult thing in a harsh way, then it won’t work. Take a difficult subject and tell it in an entertaining way. You have to go beyond the sugar coated surface and see how the writer and director of this movie is trying to tell you something bigger and more meaningful.

What was the genesis of this story?

At the university, a friend of mine told me this poem written by Alok Dhanwa which said: “Phir aa raha hai December / Phir ghar se bhaagengi ladkiyaan / Zaroori nahin hai ki jab ek ladki ghar se bhaagey toh ek ladka bhi bhaagey / Kuch ladkiyaan sirf mann mein bhaagti hai. ‘ This was the genesis of Atrangi Re. “Kuch ladkiyaan sirf mann mein bhaagti hai” is what I tried to manifest in this film.

This line became the reason I wrote this story. Does the poem only talk about mental illness? No! He talks about the women of our country … he talks about what binds them together on so many levels. So I took that and wrote my story. We have to understand that Atrangi Re is not a poem or a painting … I needed to portray this idea by means of a moving story.

Himanshu Sharma

We needed a film that speaks responsibly on many levels.

In such a difficult subject, what were the most difficult passages to write?

The trickiest thing was to make the public understand all this father-daughter angle. It could have really hit the wrong way. Our biggest worry was how to make it palatable and innocent that the viewer not feel strange about it. By the grace of God, we pretty much made it out …

But there were murmurs about the Oedipal connotations of the film …

It is a country of 150 crores of inhabitants. Everyone has a voice and with digitization they have the opportunity to present it now … which is a good thing. But I cannot read and control each person’s heart, mind and tongue … I believe in each their own. But I’m happy that most of the audience has connected this common thread the right way.

I’ll admit that we’ve always been wary of how to present this track in an innocent and nonchalant way … in a way that doesn’t strike the viewer in a bad way. I’m pretty happy with the way this song went.

You mentioned the word “demonstrate” several times here. Is there a moment in the film that you think lifted your writing from paper to screen in the most effective way?

It would be that scene where Dhanush speaks in Tamil (and tells Rinku about Sara that he loves her). I told him what I wanted in this scene and we were sure we wanted him to speak Tamil. I told him that was the larger idea and that he had the freedom to choose how he wanted to go about it. I didn’t ask him and he didn’t tell me what he was going to do either … agar bataa bhi dete, it’s not that I would have understood what he would have said in Tamil! (Laughs)

This scene taught me that language is a very small thing. You know exactly what this boy is trying to say to this girl. And the reactions on Dhanush and Sara’s faces were so genuine and truthful. That day we ended up early because we actually got through that scene in just a few takes.

You and Aanand L. Rai have collaborated to tell us great stories. Could the collaborative relationship between you two be summed up as simply as you “understand” each other?

The good thing between the two of us is that he never asks me what I’m going to write next (smiles). He lets me do it, he lets me make up a story, and once we’ve picked a story, our next two years or so are completely focused on it. I tell him about it and over the next couple of weeks I kind of push him to lead it! (Laughs) I sort of maneuver him by saying, “Let’s work on this one.”

Are writers finally getting their due in the Hindi film industry?

There is a long way to go, but it’s definitely better than before. We have come a long way and are better off than 10 years ago. But there is much more to be done. It’s a great time for writers because these are fresh, well-told stories that only work with the viewer. I really wish we had more storytellers who come up with interesting, authentic, high-level films.

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