Atrangi Re (2021), streaming on Disney + Hotstar is disappointing fare from Aanand L Rai. The film, starring Sara Ali Khan, Dhanush and Akshay Kumar, highlights yet trivializes issues dealing with mental disorder in a tale that begins promisingly enough but fails to sustain thereafter.
Rinku Sooryavanshi (Sara Ali Khan)is a free-spirited and ferocious girl from Sewan, Bihar, who has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to elope with her lover. Tired of her antics, the matriarch of the family (Seema Biswas) decides to get rid of her by getting married to someone who is not from their area. So Vishu (Dhanush), a doctor from South India, is kidnapped and coerced to marry the unwilling Rinku and the two are sent packing to Delhi. During the journey, Vishu, not accepting this forced alliance, tells Rinku that he is getting engaged to the daughter of the Dean of his Medical College in two days time. Surprisingly, Rinku is actually relieved because she also has a boyfriend, Sajjad Ali Khan (Akshay Kumar), who is a magician. Both of them amicably decide to go their separate ways once they reach Delhi. However, nothing goes according to plan. Vishu’s wedding gets called off, he ends up falling in love with Rinku, and the situation gets more complicated with Sajjad’s arrival…
Director Anand L Rai and his longtime collaborator, Himanshu Sharma, have come up with another love triangle, like their previous outings – Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Raanjhanaa (2013) and Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015) – where they take extremely diverse characters on a ‘quirky’ journey to self-realization. Though the premise of the film has some originality, sadly, most of the treatment has been rehashed from their earlier efforts. As a result, Atrangi Re remains superficially thin and fails to delve deep enough into the lives of the characters in the film. In spite of some unique and surprising plot twists, the writing disappoints. The film meanders in too many different directions with a number of extravagant subplots that hijack the gravitas of its narrative structure.
That said, filming on actual locations as the characters travel in public transport, having them speak in their local languages, and making them express their concerns about their typically middle-class existence adds a certain element of realism to the story. The film stays within Rai’s strong point – that of telling the stories of individuals, who are put into difficult situations so that they could together strengthen their emotional bonding. But the manner in which Rinku’s clinical condition is handled and the solution it provides ends up being facile and trivialized. An individual suffering from a psychological disorder needs proper care, counselling and medication. Popping pills randomly to cure the condition, as shown in the film, seems like mere tokenism and oversimplification and does more harm than good to the cause. Moreover, bridegroom kidnapping, which is a reality in parts of the country, has been absurdly executed. Vishu is tranqualized with laughing gas while Rinku’s kheer is spiked with a sedative. They are then married off in their state of inebriation.
Technically, the cinematography (Pankaj Kumar), though rich and colorful, fails to bring out the claustrophobic mindset of the characters, be it in an overcrowded city or their hostel rooms. The production design by Nitin Zihani Choudhary creates an evocative visual setting that interlocks well with the theme of the film. Editor Hemal Kothari maintains a subtle rhythm to carry forward the story seamlessly. It gives the film a languid and leisurely pace with moments of staying with the characters. But above all, it is the musical score by the veteran AR Rahman that elevates the emotional quotient of the film. This, despite the fact that most of the (well-composed) songs appear a trifle forced in the film. They artificially initiate the film’s dramatic conflict rather than go organically with the flow.
It is the central performances that lift the film a notch. They make us strongly identify with the protagonists and empathize with them as we feel each of their fears and frustrations. As an individual who prefers to remain confined in her world of misapprehension, Rinku is a complex character. It has to be said that Sara Ali Khan performs commendably. Dhanush wins our heart with his act as a dedicated husband who entertains each and every whim and fancy of his wife, no matter the consequences. He is so compelling that it is hard not to root for him. Akshay Kumar executes his role with confident flamboyance. To the film’s credit, no attempt is made to make him look younger or obviously hero-like. Of the rest of the cast, Ashish Verma as a psychiatrist who claims to understand the psychology of women is a delight to watch. He exhibits a razor-sharp sense of comic timing and gives the film its fair share of humorous moments.
Overall though, the film, in spite of having its moments, fails to make an impact due to its simplistic treatment of mental illness.
Hindi, Drama, Colour