Atrangi Re: This is NOT a movie review!

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While individual professionals are trying hard in their limited capacity to create healthy and expansive discourses around mental health, the ones with more reach, access and funds (like Bollywood, Sadhguru, media) are picking these conversations to be part of the trend, but are causing endless harm.

Case-in-point: Atrangi Re, movie by Anand L Rai.

Akshay Kumar once said in an interview that he doesn’t want to stress his audience with any high-brow content, they can happily leave behind their minds at home to enjoy his movies. The irony is, even for a film that is about the inner workings of the human mind, the pre-requisite remains the same – don’t involve your brain in the proceedings, don’t look for logic!

Plot of the film

Sara’s parents are killed by her mother’s family, because it is an interreligious (Hindu-Muslim) love marriage. She grows up as a traumatized kid living with her parents’ murderers. She has this imaginary friend/lover (Akshay Kumar), who is apparently her father. Fed up with her umpteen attempts to elope with this non-existing character, Sara’s family gets her forcefully married to Dhanush, under the influence of laughing gas! Dhanush who’s already reluctantly committed to another lady, slowly falls for Sara’s antics and steadfastly holds onto patni-vatra! He’s a medical college student and has friends who are studying psychiatry, so they soon figure out Sara’s condition and try to drive her away from imaginary Akshay Kumar, cure her with questionable medical approaches, and that too in a period of 45-60 days! They could open any shop, “Any mental health problem, cured phataphat!”

Deeply problematic notions that the movie put forwards:

Doctors/Medical students are totally misrepresented in the movie. In ways more subtle than Arjun Reddy, which is more concerning. As they decide to cure Sara, they don’t consult any seniors for advice. Keep giving her medicine periodically, without prescription! As soon as Sara pops a tablet, her condition improves instantly! (Think, Saridon/Crocin ads also suggest it gives relief only in a few hours time.) Endless psychoanalysis is done but not one psychological term is used. They “arrange” people at will, to fool or play along with Sara’s illusionary episodes.

There’s this one side-kick-to-hero-cum-medical-student who keeps repeating, “I’m a psychiatrist. I know women.” This is when Dhanush insists on being honest with her partner about his accidental marriage. Or when Sara is not responding to his attention. I felt like hitting this fellow for that dialogue. Outrageously insensitive and misinformed writing! Blanket statements about women ARE NOT COOL!

I’m guessing Sara’s condition is what could be called Schizophrenia. (I don’t remember them calling it anything in the movie.) To cope up with the trauma, she looks up to her dead father who was a magician, and turns him into a believable character in her head. This sounds plausible! But such a condition being cured in flat 60 days, with no counselling or support from the patient, raises questions. As far as I know, even in cases where the patient knows what is happening with them and why, there’s little control. Even when the illusions become less frequent, a small trigger could put them in the abyss again. This is taxing on care-takers too. And the reason one picks up such a storyline is to explore all these layers. Not simply whitewash the whole experience.

Akshay Kumar is forgettable. Sara is headache-inducing. Dhanush is the only one who brings some kind of emotion in the movie, and makes you want to root for him, with his restrained longing and love. Quite annoyingly though, he keeps repeating, “biwi hain tu meri!” What if she wasn’t? Wouldn’t he have helped her get help? This trope of “you’re married for life once you’re married, irrespective of the circumstances and consent” is so deeply regressive, especially in our times.

The story and script writing are UNFORGIVEABLE. I mean, don’t mind if you can’t take the pains of working with professionals to understand such health conditions, but at least watch movies made on the subject! They give you decent understanding and though you still might not get it right, you’ll at least not write preposterous scenes. The one scene where Dhanush breaks 25 bear bottles on his head to make Sara realize her illusions, I felt the urge to rush him to a psychiatrist first. Sara at least throws soda bottles at others to defend herself. Do you get the irony here?!

It is so easy to say that one needn’t vex so much about a Bollywood movie. This is not only about a movie and its business. It is also about how it is shaping conversations on mental health. Reviewers are using whatever term they wanna use for Sara’s condition from hallucination to Alzheimer to bipolar! Poor, sub-standard, ill-informed comedy will emerge influenced by the movie. All this is problematic and needs to be questioned. This is not about Aurangazeb kissing Padmavat, so no one will make a fuss about it. If there’s anything to protest against movies, it is movies like these that we need to protest. Not through violence, but through indignation and information.

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