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Exclusive! Sara Ali Khan on Atrangi Re’s success: Been long since a film of mine was appreciated like this

Sara Ali Khan also said, "In all honesty, I've probably forgotten what it feels like after Kedarnath and Simmba."

Aishwarya Vasudevan
Dec 28, 2021
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Sara Ali Khan is basking in glory after the success of her latest outing, Atrangi Re, on Disney+ Hotstar. In this Aanand L Rai directorial, she plays the leading lady opposite stalwarts like Akshay Kumar and Dhanush. 

Fans cannot stop lauding Khan’s performance as Rinku in the film written by Himanshu Sharma.

Khan recently discussed all things Atrangi Re exclusively with OTTPlay, like how she's finally receiving appreciation for a role after a long time and also the criticism the film has been receiving. The actor even decoded two important scenes from the film featuring Kumar and Dhanush, and shared an update on her next film.

Excerpts: (Caution: Spoilers Ahead)

Congratulations! Atrangi Re has mostly opened to fantastic reviews. How are you soaking in all the reactions?

I'm just so grateful. I'm so humbled. Aanand Ji and I keep sending each other stories and articles, and it's just been so overwhelming to get so much love. I'm just very thankful. It's been a long time since a film of mine has got an appreciation like this. In all honesty, I've probably forgotten what it feels like after Kedarnath and Simmba. It's been a while since I've given a film that's been given an appreciation like this. 

The film has created a milestone on Disney+ Hotstar with millions of views in just a few days of its release. Does having an OTT release ease the box office pressure?

See, it's not about pressure. Every film has its own journey. I don't know if Atrangi Re would have done well or not have done well at the box office. But I've never really been into numbers and techniques, so I don't think that's my job. I think as an actor, it's my job to give my 300% to a film, which I think I can say, with full sincerity and honesty, that I've done with every scene in Atrangi Re. As long as people are watching the film and like the film, I don't think it matters to me where people are watching it. I can see that people are liking the film. I am getting calls and messages. I am happy about it. 

We say, "don't judge a book by its cover". When Atrangi Re was announced, there was a lot of chatter about your pairing with Akshay Kumar. Now, what do you have to tell them post-release?

When the trailer came, not just the audience or media or anything, even a few of my friends asked me, "Listen, isn't he so much older than you?" I said, "Yeah, but you watch the film first." So even when my loved ones say this, it's not that the people are saying this because they want to bring us down here. It is an atrangi pairing. I'm opposite Akshay Sir, and it is confusing for people. But that was when we realized that we were on the right track. Even so, I realized that the more people find this trio atrangi, the more they will find them fine after the release. Even in fun, people kept saying, "He is of your father's age." Now you know, right, that he is the father only.

Along with appreciation, the film has also been criticised by a lot of people. How do you react to that criticism?

I think that, ultimately, filmmaking is not an objective thing. One plus one equals two, which is math. It's not filmmaking. I realised very early on that while making a film, your purpose should not be to make everyone happy. Your intention should be to narrate a story with honesty, and if it connects with anybody, that should be celebrated. Connecting with everybody is never the aim. That you tell a story with honesty and that honesty reaches even to people, that is an achievement for me. Most people that I have spoken to and most things that I have read are positive. They're complimenting Aanand L Rai, they're complimenting the music (by AR Rahman), they're complimenting the actors. I think that's a win for us. Will everyone like the film? No. It's a film, not math; it's fine. 

Did you anticipate this reaction to Atrangi Re when you first heard the script? What was your thought process when you were first offered the film and now that you have seen the massive reactions it has been getting?

I knew when Aanand Ji told me, even before I read the script, when I heard just two or three lines of the film, that it was definitely going to be an exceedingly special journey. I also think that it is genuinely from Himanshu Sir's writing to Aanand Ji's direction to my portrayal that the character of Rinku, in particular, has been dealt with so much love. I'm very thankful that I am getting so much love, but Rinku was already used to this love because Aanand Ji, Sara, and now the audience are also appreciating it. I think that Rinku's character, especially, was always dealt with very sensitively, and she was always given lots of love. That love that Rinku has given me allowed me to play her with a lot of honesty, which I think is why it has touched people, if it has.

If I asked you to decode that whole climax sequence of Rinku finally coming to terms with the fact that Akshay Kumar's character is her father and also her figment of imagination, how would you do it?

For me, more than my father, even in the first half, when you get to know that there is nobody there, it's just an imagination. On one level, what we're trying to show, and what I at least understand, is that there's always going to be this perfect image in your mind. It can be of your lover or even your coffee. There's always imagination and it's always perfect. At the beginning of that scene, Akshay Sir asks me, "70 rupaye ka chowmein khaye?" And I say, "Mera bhi mann chowmein ka tha," which means if he's my imagination, obviously he's perfect. He knows what's on my mind, what I'm thinking, because that's me. But when an outsider, a real person, creates a place in your heart, that love is different. I think that is a story that resonated with me the most; the idea, of course, the fact that she has a troubled life and the whole angle of the father makes it even more painful and even more relatable. 

But I think the fact that Sajjad (Kumar) doesn't exist means he is just a perfect idea in her mind whom Vishu (Dhanush) eventually defeats. How is that possible? It is only possible because you have to let go of your imagination to live in reality. As far as your question about the climax is concerned, the sequence was very difficult to shoot too because whatever Rinku is seeing, it's either a flashback or VFX. It's a treatment shot. I was crying looking at the green screen. Shooting that scene was very, very tricky and the only reason I was able to do anything was because of Aanand Ji. He genuinely made me understand and feel for that character. You know that your parents have died. To cope with that, the person that you have had a life with, all this while, has actually not been there; that sense of what you've already lost is lost again.

Another scene that now has a separate fan base is Dhanush's character confessing his feelings to Rinku in Tamil. Did you know what he was saying before you shot the scene?

No, I did not. I'm glad that you asked this because it is one of my favourite scenes as well. I told Aanand Ji and Dhanush, "I don't want to know what Vishu was saying because Rinku will not know what he was saying." Rinku is a Bihari girl who speaks Hindi, and that's her range. She doesn't understand Tamil. But the interesting thing I learned as an actor is that acting is not about the language, it's about the eyes, emotion, and feelings. When Sara was standing with Dhanush or Rinku was with Vishu, she understood what she had to understand. The grammar and the sentences were not important, and I told Aanand Ji the same. Love has to be emotional, and I liked that scene because I'm not acting in that scene, I'm truly living that character. In the first two beats, even Rinku doesn't understand what he is saying. Then she understands when she looks into his eyes and words don't matter to her as she's reading his feelings. As an actor, that was a very beautiful thing to experience.

Was the pandemic an add-on as a difficulty while shooting this complex character?

As an actor, I try to stay away from things that are beyond my limits. Location planning or where the film is released is not my job. All I know is that, whether there was a pandemic or not, 2020 was a very difficult year for me. So every schedule and call sheet of Atrangi Re and every day came as a blessing for me, that whatever bad has happened, this is a reason to live for.

Going back to your time on set, what would you like to say about your experience of working with actors like Akshay Kumar and Dhanush and director Aanand L Rai?

If I can tell you honestly, if you told me today that you would take me back to Banaras in 2020 and I would start shooting again from the beginning, I wouldn't even think for a moment. I genuinely believe that you have to be present in every moment. When it ends, you have to move on in life. But with Atrangi Re, it is the only experience that I would like to do again with the same conviction. 

What has been your learning experience from Atrangi Re, and what sets this film apart from your other projects?

So many things. One is that, honestly, the amount of happiness and love you put into something shows. Part of the reason that Atrangi Re is touching people is that Aanand Ji and I, more than technique, have worked on honesty. That is something that is universal, and that is something that can be seen and felt. Number one for me would be that honesty is beautiful. 

The second thing is that whenever you show your vulnerabilities and insecurities, at that time you can do your best work, if you just channelize your energy correctly. Aanand Ji and I started shooting at a time when my confidence was very low. But he was constantly there for me and he was constantly motivating me. That's the only reason I've been able to do what I've been able to do. He also made me realize that "acting" is a tricky word. You shouldn't have to act; you should feel. Especially for an actor like me, honesty and conviction are the most important things to me because that's all I have. So if I don't feel it, it will look fake.

Another thing I learned is that fear is not just for actors. Fearlessly do what you have to do. If it doesn't come out well, have another take. Do what you feel, with honesty and not fear.

After Atrangi Re, now what's next for you?

I am shooting with Vicky Kaushal and director Laxman Utekar in Indore. The announcement should hopefully come soon.

So people don't have to wait another year to see your next film?

I think it was worth the wait. I don't think that it's always about the timing. I even felt, as a leading lady, that amid the pandemic, I should have done more films and more work. I have to work more, but quality always wins over quantity. Whatever you do, it will be at the right time, God-willing. My only hope is that people will like my work so that I can get more opportunities. I want to be able to do so many different kinds of films, and I want to be able to do different kinds of things. But for that, people have to like me, so I just have to keep working hard and honestly, and hope that I get these opportunities further.

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