Atrangi Re movie review: Dear Dhanush and Sara Ali Khan, Why?

There is a difference between complexity and contrivances. Atrangi Re confuses the two and piles twist upon twist to sustain its bizarre plotline.

Anna MM Vetticad December 24, 2021 10:51:09 IST

1/5

Aanand L. Rai has built his career on capturing the flavours of small-town India in blockbusters such as Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhanaa and Tanu Weds Manu Returns that he directed. Although the gender politics in these three films offer a curious contrast to the progressiveness of Nil Battey Sannata and Tumbbad that he produced but did not direct, one thing is for sure: weird is not a word that could be used for his directorial ventures so far.

Atrangi Re, directed by Rai and written by his long-time collaborator Himanshu Sharma, is – I can’t think of another way of saying this – weird. It is the oddest Hindi film release of 2021.

On a trip to Siwan in Bihar, Vishwanathan Iyer a.k.a. Vishu (Dhanush) – a Tamilian and a medico – is abducted and forced to marry Rinku Sooryavanshi (Sara Ali Khan) whose grandmother (Seema Biswas) wants the troublesome girl off her hands. Once out of the clutches of her violent family, Rinku tells Vishu about her long-time amour Sajjad Ali Khan (Akshay Kumar) who her people do not approve of. He in turn informs her that he is due to be engaged to his girlfriend in Chennai with both parents’ blessings in just a few days.

Those familiar with Bihar society would be aware of groom abductions and pakdau/jabariya shaadi. These primitive practices were the subject of the 2019 Hindi film Jabariya Jodi. They are the take-off point but not the theme of Atrangi Re.

If you have been tracking Messrs Rai and Sharma’s respective filmographies, you will know that they are committed to the idea of love at first sight – not infatuation or attraction but a deep, abiding love that is born without getting to know a person at all. So it comes as no surprise that Vishu has fallen for Rinku despite the soon-to-be-fiancee waiting in the wings. The datedness or immaturity of this notion is far from being the worst part of Atrangi Re.

What follows is truly strange, an incomprehensible mish-mash of enduring love, the impact of trauma on the human psyche and social objections to inter-community romances.

There is a difference between complexity and contrivances. Atrangi Re confuses the two and piles twist upon twist to sustain its bizarre plotline.

Bollywood’s continuing tendency to cast women as romantic partners of male actors old enough to be their fathers has been the subject of some discussion since Sara Ali Khan and Akshay Kumar’s names were announced for this project. For the record, there is more to Rinku and Sajjad than what a viewer might assume from the trailer and the description of the story so far. Nevertheless, the 28-year age difference between the two actors is glaring on screen and adds to the discomfiting, icky nature of the relationship drawn up between them in the script.

Atrangi Re movie review Dear Dhanush and Sara Ali Khan Why

Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say it appears not to have struck the entire team of Atrangi Re that, irrespective of how they spin it, their equation contains an element of incest. This, among other reasons, is why the second half of the film, which seems designed to be profound and moving, is none of that.

Dhanush is earnest as a man with feelings so intense for his ‘wife’ that he is willing to go to ludicrous lengths for her, but that earnestness is wasted on the ridiculousness of his character’s actions. Besides, as a senior star in the Tamil industry, one has to ask why he is willing to be typecast in Hindi cinema. The similarities between his characters in Raanjhanaa and Atrangi Re are pronounced.

Sara is just as involved in her performance as he is, but goes over the top too often.

Akshay’s Sajjad is a supporting character who enters the picture quite late in the proceedings. I can’t imagine any star managing to rise above such peculiar conceptualisation, so rather than trying to analyse his acting here it makes sense to ask: what on earth was he thinking while accepting this role?

And why, in the middle of this outlandish plot, does Sajjad take time out to take a potshot at Mughal emperor Shahjahan?

Neither the artistes nor A.R. Rahman’s hummable music for Atrangi Re can be critiqued with any degree of seriousness when you consider the starting block: the inexplicable writing and the script’s distorted understanding of psychiatry.

Dhanush and Akshay are veterans who might easily recover from an off day. The one who has a lot more to lose than they do from making such poor choices is Sara. The young actor was an enjoyable bundle of verve in Kedarnath, which marked her debut, but has been floundering ever since. Those who loved her turn as the impossible-to-be-fettered Mandakini Mishra in that film can only hope she finds better advisers right away.

Meanwhile, what she and Dhanush saw in Atrangi Re will remain a mystery that only they can solve for us.

Rating: 1/5

Atrangi Re is streaming on Disney+Hotstar

Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial

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