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Decoding the depiction of mental health in Atrangi Re

Directed by Aanand L. Rai, the movie Atrangi Re features Sara Ali Khan, Dhanush and Akshay Kumar. It was released on Disney+Hotstar recently, and we have a few thoughts about the movie. 

 

While the movie attempts to provide a depiction of the impact of childhood trauma, Atrangi Re is quite problematic in what it shows the viewers. The movie shows us what can cause mental illness, and the symptoms that result from it- watching her parents die causes Rinku to hallucinate her parents’ love story.

 

But really- was there a reason to actually trivialize the problem and even make it comical at times? No. 

 

In addition to this, the movie further perpetuates stereotypes that need to be talked about more.

 

Sajjid gets affected every time she takes medication. Medications for mental illnesses take time to work, and don’t affect individuals or their experience of mental illness instantaneously. Usually, we’re looking at a few weeks at least. We see that when MS says that the medication takes time to have it’s full effect, but then how is it that Sajid gets affected everytime she takes the pills? Is that a plot hole, or is it just a blatant lack of research?

 

There wasn’t a need to make characters fall out of trees and chairs, or get injured in other ways to show that the medication was having an effect. There was no need to call the “virus” “Covid’s cousin David”. What the movie needed was for Rinku to be made aware of the impact of her traumatic experiences, and work through them in a manner that did not involve so much deception. 

 

These to-be-doctors pretended they could see what she saw, paid people to cheer for an event, ‘carried’ and ‘treated’ Sajjad to the hospital, and Vishu even slammed beer bottles on his head to prove some point that just got lost in the drama. What the movie did was enable many unnecessary behaviours instead of seeking professional help for a person in need. There is a reason an MD course in Psychiatry takes three years to complete- there is a lot to learn, and none of it involves enabling a client’s behaviour that negatively impacts them, giving pills without consent, a lack of understanding of mental illnesses and a total lack of empathy!

 

Furthermore, medicating someone without either their own consent or that of a family member appointed by them to make decisions on their behalf is highly unethical and illegal! We have the mental health act for reasons such as this one. Patients have the right to know what medications they are receiving, and if they are not in a position to do so, then they have the right to appoint someone on their behalf. Now one can argue that by virtue of being her husband, Vishu can make this decision for her. However, she was in a position to understand her symptoms, and should have been consulted instead of having someone else make decisions for her. 

 

In the film, we see Rinku experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia that seems to have resulted from the traumatic experience of watching her parents murdered. What we go on to see is that Vishu and his medical college friends, one of whom is studying psychiatry, did not make a single attempt to seek proper medical help for her. The illegality and unethicality of the practice of the “doctors” in the movie highlight how dangerous it can be to work with professionals who don’t understand the rules that they have to follow in their practice. It risks putting the patient’s life in danger! 

 

Rinku is a girl experiencing deep-seated childhood trauma. But according to the filmmakers, it is something that can be treated with love or a few pills without proper consultation and therapy. What this does, is further perpetuate that therapy isn’t something that is necessary, and also take away the rights of the patients in choosing their course of treatment as well. 

 

MS the “psychiatrist” mocks Rinku’s mental illness saying that she belongs to a museum in France and is instead roaming free on the streets of Delhi. He later goes on to label her condition as ‘pagalpan’. No MS, you just don’t understand the area you claim to specialise in. He manages to successfully make mental health professionals look like people who don’t actually understand what their patients are going through, and just play games with giving them pills to pop instead. 

 

Here is a pro tip: When looking for a mental professional, avoid someone like MS! Mental health professionals who are empathetic, take the time to help you understand your concerns and help you find ways to deal with them are the ones you should go to!

 

When Rinku does the Magic show, MS talks about how all the patients in the room with mental illnesses ( he casually mentions OCD, Alzheimer’s, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia)see what Rinku sees. He mentions disorders like they are something that have commonality in their experience of perceptual and cognitive symptoms. It is extremely important to remember that not everyone does not experience mental illnesses the same way. Even with persons experiencing the same disorder, their experience of the same symptoms varies in terms of what caused them, how it affects them, how they feel while experiencing the symptoms, and much more. 

 

Furthermore, not every mental illness has the same symptoms! Mental illnesses can occur on a wide range, with a varying set of symptoms. While there are some similarities in the symptoms experienced, and individuals can have more than one mental illness, it doesn’t mean that each illness is the same. Each has specific criteria for diagnosis, and mental health professionals have manuals to help them distinguish one disorder from the other. Cramming a list of disorders together does nothing but put them in a box that makes it harder for people to understand them. We don’t need more of that. 

 

It shows us a problematic take on toxic-love, self-harm and domestic violence. Rinku claims that a couple can’t have a love marriage if there’s no violence involved. No. Love with violence is a toxic love story, not a romantic one. Not only is she missing a point here, she is stereotyping the state of Bihar too. She boasts of being unafraid of kicks and punches because she has a “Ph.D. in being beaten up” as she grew up with her abusive grandmother. The movie tries to explain how the years of domestic abuse contributed to her mental health concerns but never looks into it with the sensitivity it required. 

 

Rinku has been through a lot, and at this point in her life seems to be doing very little to protect herself. Instead, she has romanticized the situation. She finds herself being extremely comfortable with self-harm and claims her love is true because she repeatedly accepts her own family’s abusive behavior and violence. 

 

Let’s make this easy to understand: Being abused for love is not romantic. Abuse is not what you “should” experience when you fall in love or want to have a love marriage. Beating someone for falling in love (or anything really) is not okay. Years of abuse is not okay.Making abuse look romantic is not okay. Committing murder because two people fell in love, (surprise surprise) IS NOT OKAY. 

 

Having support from your friends and loved ones is an extremely important part of the treatment process. It plays various roles, like helping a person with various daily tasks when they are ill,  offering financial assistance when in need, giving advice to a friend when they are facing a difficult situation, providing caring, empathy, and concern for loved ones in need and so much more.  There is a strong relationship between social support and mental health. It is also extremely necessary to provide higher social support, especially for women, the elderly, patients, workers, and students because of their need for it. However, as much as we wish it would, love and comfort alone cannot cure a mental illness. It can help the individual cope with it, but not cure it. That is a very important thing to remember.

 

As endearing as Vishu’s love and efforts may seem, the movie does a lot in taking the efforts to destigmatize mental health ten steps back. It romanticizes lack of consent, the experience of mental illness, the struggle to have love accepted in this country, and so much more. 

 

As a country, we should do better. 

 

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