tv & movies

‘Atrangi Re’ movie review: Even Dhanush can’t save this weird take on love

In a bid to move beyond the obvious, director Aanand L Rai has bloated a beautiful little thought into a contrived mess, along with a disturbing depiction of mental illness

“I can’t breathe; everything else is alright,” declares Rinku Suryavanshi (Sara Ali Khan), a spirited runaway girl from Siwan town in Bihar, who loves to make a dash — for and from love — as she cranes her head out of a moving autorickshaw in the polluted air of Delhi. This is exactly the problem with director Aanand L Rai’s latest leap of faith. It has an unusual premise, grand scale, big-ticket performers and the moving melodies of A.R Rahman, but the contrived love story still gasps for breath.

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Like Vishwanathan Iyer or simply Vishu (Dhanush), a Tamil medical student from a Delhi college, who is forcibly married to Rinku — under the influence of laughing gas — there is a lot of hot air around a seemingly-complex idea revolving around two men and a woman.

Rinku tells Vishu her heart beats for Sajjad Ali Khan (Akshay Kumar), a magician whom nobody has seen. Vishu is committed to another girl. Both think it would just be a matter of days before they go their respective ways, but as we know, in the universe of Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma, the boy and girl tend to meet under strange circumstances before cupid strikes. But here as the title suggests, things get increasingly weird and outlandish. So much so that by the time it lands on its feet, one has lost patience.

The spectacular premise is rooted in mental illness, but seeks to probe the layers of the heart. It talks of the confusion girls have in choosing between a lover and a husband. It hints at how some girls look for a reflection of their father in their partner. It talks of human vulnerabilities and selfless love. It talks of letting go of the past and embracing the present. A metaphor works in many ways; Rinku could well be the Sita of yesterday or a reflection on the India of today.

Read More | Aanand L. Rai on ‘Atrangi Re’ and his bond with Dhanush: ‘He gets the same love as my daughter’

However, for all these meanings to unravel, the story on the surface has to work. Here, Sharma and Rai, falter once again. Like Zero — their last outing at the turnstiles — in a bid to move beyond the obvious, they have again bloated a beautiful little thought into a contrived mess.

With no clear intrinsic logic in sight, the stereotypes that the script upholds about Bihar and South Indians for a few laughs become all the more glaring. Similarly, its depiction of mental illness is disturbing to say the least. We understand love still has many obstacles in the hinterland, but it is hard to imagine that a powerful family doesn’t try to know the identity of the guy their daughter is desperate to elope with. We know mental illness is still hard to comprehend, but here it has been used just for convenience to further a contrived plot. It seems the protagonist’s friend has been told that he is a sidekick first and a psychiatrist later!

Sara Ali Khan wholeheartedly dives into the role of the perky protagonist, but falters as the material gets dense and is expected to be more than just Chaka Chak, her introductory number. As the elephant-riding magician, Akshay Kumar comes across as a single-trick pony for no fault of his. He has just chosen a wrong vehicle to experiment with his image.

As the medical student who becomes the cure, Vishu is a derivative of the character Dhanush played in Raanjhanaa. His simple, unalloyed charm is once against hard to resist, and it’s his unlikely covalence with Sara that lends meaning to songs like Jaise Ret Zara Si. He instills a semblance of life into the love story and is the reason that keeps you interested even when Rai’s big reveal makes you increasingly frustrated. But even he can’t salvage this weird take on love.

Atrangi Re is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar


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