The end credits of Atrangi Re are as unique as is the idea of the film. The credits begin with not just “A film by Aanand L. Rai” but it credits each primary creator of the film in the same manner – A R Rahman, Himanshu Sharma and the likes. Somehow, that is the biggest genius of Atrangi Re. Everything before the end credits might’ve seemed like a great idea, but none of it materialises on screen. Even on paper, what writer Himanshu Sharma and director Aanand L. Rai overlook is the mistreatment of mental health.
Atrangi Re is a bold film, or at least appears to be. We know we’re in for a lot of drama right from the beginning, where Sara Ali Khan’s Rinku is seen eloping her home. With who? She doesn’t tell us just as yet. Her family, tired of her antics, decides to get her married to someone, anyone, who doesn’t belong to Bihar. Her grandmother orders the men of the family to fetch her any man who could take Rinku off her shoulders. Enter Dhanush’s Vishu. They get married and are on a train to Delhi, where he’s still studying to be a doctor. They realise that neither of them want this marriage, and so will file for a divorce and go their own ways with their respective partners. He is supposed to get engaged in two days, she is waiting for her lover to return from South Africa. But Vishu decides to take Rinku to Chennai for his engagement ceremony. There, he falls in love with her. This is what the first half of Atrangi Re is about. I’m not going to sugar coat it, but this is a very boring and stretched first half.
Then comes the twist in the tale, which really worked for me at first glance. But as Aanand L. Rai and Himanshu Sharma’s film proceeded, I began to see the faults in the writing, the ignorance in it. And so, what we get is a genius idea, with a terrible treatment. I cannot talk about this twist because that would be giving it all away, but what I can say is that this is, perhaps, Hindi Cinema’s worst treatment of mental health. In the 1990s, a film like this would’ve seemed okay, given the lack of awareness around mental health, but today, in 2021, Atrangi Re is nothing but a result of poor research and negligence. This is not how you deal with years of trauma. Atrangi Re can be very triggering for victims and survivors of past trauma. That the film just brushes through the entire process of healing is not just plain sad but questions the individual journeys that people go through while dealing with a mental scar. I’m all up for magical realism, in fact I love a story that studies this theme, but not in the name of a joke.
I would really give all trophies to Aanand L. Rai for the idea that Atrangi Re is born out of. And then take them away from him for the treatment of this very idea, especially this year. We’ve had the two worst years of our lives. Mental health, throughout the world, hasn’t seen the best years. To trivialise trauma as does this film is offensive, to say the least. I’m probably saying the same thing twice, but that’s how mad I am! Trauma cannot exist as the final star on your Christmas tree, it’s not a decorative element. If that’s your main theme, there needs to be research, and sensitivity. And then, when you have a near perfect script, your actors need to have the capability to play these characters.
Sadly, Sara Ali Khan seems like the most imperfect actor to play Rinku. Rinku is an eccentric, bold woman who is madly in love with Sajjad Ali Khan (Akshay Kumar – don’t even get me started on the age gap). She’s so fierce that at one point she tells her grandmother that at night, she will suffocate the old woman with a pillow. Her grandmother, who is using an oxygen cylinder to help herself breathe is in shock, and in the next moment, Rinku de-plugs her cylinder. Rinku is the love child of Geet (Kareena Kapoor Khan in Jab We Met), Bobby (Kangana Ranaut in Judgmentall Hai Kya) and Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam). That’s the kind of person Rinku is and that’s also the kind of actor she demanded for herself. Someone who doesn’t think before acting, someone who is on her toes always, and that someone is only Kangana Ranaut. Ranaut has that sudden urgency that, perhaps, no one in our industry has, especially not Sara Ali Khan. Khan has a constant expression throughout, her Bihari never seems Bihari enough and she’s too stiff to perform. What seemed like potential in Kedarnath seems like a series of failed acts now.
Dhanush, try how much he may, cannot rise above the writing. He doesn’t even have much to do. Usually Dhanush is an actor beyond the writing. Even in Atrangi Re he is his charming best, and delivers a good performance, in moments. But Vishu is a character far below his capabilities. The highlight of this film was Dhanush singing and dancing to Chaka Chak, and him mouthing Tamil dialogues. Akshay Kumar, horribly miscast as Sajjad Ali Khan is three years older than Sara Ali Khan’s father. When the twist unravels, you’re okay with their pairing, but then come the scenes in flashbacks. It’s just too weird.
For an idea that wanted to get the ball rolling for conversations around mental health, Atrangi Re does quite the opposite, while making fun of trauma and people dealing with trauma. Seems like, with Zero, the Himanshu Sharma and Aanand L. Rai magic has faded away. Sadly enough, this time it comes at a heavy price…
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