So far I haven’t been a huge fan of Aanand L. Rai’s films but Dhanush is a big draw card (and Raanjhaana wasn’t completely awful), so I thought I’d try Atrangi Re. But again, I’m left thinking that there is too much that is problematic for me to really enjoy the film. There is a lot that works well, but sadly, there is a lot more that doesn’t. The good is the music, most of the first half and Dhanush, who really is excellent despite playing a rather shady character. The film also looks great and it’s a shame I couldn’t see it on the big screen since the sets and the staging are amazing. But the bad unfortunately hits around the end of the first half, and from then on, it’s frustrating to watch some good ideas smothered under the weight of poor portrayal. Be warned that there are spoilers here as it’s difficult to discuss the problems without revealing the twist in the film, so if you don’t want to know the major twist, skip past the pictures of kittens when we get to that part!
The film starts with Rinku (Sara Ali Khan) running from her abusive family to elope with her Muslim boyfriend, whose name she steadfastly refuses to reveal. The family catch her at the train station where Vishu (Dhanush) and his friend MS (Ashish Verma) have arrived for a medical camp and they see the drama unfold. To solve the problem of Rinku continually trying to elope, her grandmother Rajjo (Seema Biswas) decrees that the family must kidnap a groom so that they can get rid Rinku and all the trouble she causes. But the family mistakenly kidnap Vishu who is supposed to be getting engaged himself to the daughter of his College Dean in just a few days. After being drugged though the wedding, Rinku’s family put the newlyweds on the train to Delhi, where Vishu is studying to be a surgeon. Luckily for Rinku, she finds out about Vishu’s upcoming engagement which give her the perfect opportunity to leave him for her Sajjad (Akshay Kumar), the long standing fiancé whose name she reveals to Vishu.
So far so good and the confusions and potential love triangle are (mostly) dealt with well. Dhanush is excellent as the earnest and slightly nerdy doctor, but Sara Ali Khan’s Rinku comes across as more forced and manic rather than someone desperate to escape an intolerable situation. But once in Delhi, the true situation is revealed and that’s where the film slides off the rails.
Despite having a fiancée at home in Chennai, Vishnu seems to fall instantly in love with Rinku even though there is no real reason for him to do so. Vishu knows about Sajjid immediately after the forced marriage as Rinku immediately tells him about her fiancé while Vishu seems to be happy with his fiancée Mandy (Dimple Hayathi) given his many attempts to call her while in Bihar. At the very least, as a Tamilian she is at least able to speak the same language. On that point, I do like listening to Dhanush speak Hindi which he enunciates clearly meaning that I can actually understand what he says for the most part. My Hindi is pretty limited so it’s always extra enjoyable when I can understand the dialogue without subtitles.
This instant love affair is annoyingly unrealistic but even more problematic is that once Vishnu finds out more about Rinku, he manipulates her into staying with him. His love for her apparently means it is OK to lie at every turn to make sure that she stays with him. It’s frustrating that the original sweet, slightly geeky doctor becomes a rather creepy, obsessive stalker, although Dhanush at least is convincing in the role. We get happy, awkward happy dancing Dhanush (my favourite), emotional Dhanush declaring his love and practical and resourceful Dhanush capably manipulating the situation in his favour. The performance is perfect, but the character of Vishu is so fundamentally flawed that it’s difficult to accept that he does actually love Rinku.
Skip past the cute kittens if you want to avoid the more major spoilers. Less spoilery review resumes after the second set of kittens.
What really annoys me with this film is the terrible way Vishu and particularly MS treat Rinku despite knowing she has a mental illness. One which is so extreme that she is hallucinating and convinced that what she sees and hears is real. Bollywood has rarely treated mental illness well, but the jokes at Rinku’s expense and the farcical way she is treated is the worst I have seen for a while. Both Vishu and MS are doctors (albeit students) and should know better, but so much of what they do is simply wrong and made me really mad!
I can cope with Akshay Kumar being Rinku’s love interest since once we know exactly who he is, it makes sense of much of Rinku’s earlier behaviour and the way she treats Sajjad. I also like that in the flashback sequences Akshay is made to look young and happy, while in the sequences with Rinku he looks old and tired. I don’t find this relationship as problematic as Vishu’s with Rinku, because here Rinku is in the driver’s seat. It’s her hallucination, her psychosis, and the reason she thinks of Sajjad as her fiancé is because she needs him to be her hero. And right now, the person she needs to take her away from her family is a husband, so naturally that is how she thinks of him. Here, where Sara Ali Khan could legitimately get away with manic behaviour, she dials it back but still seems to force much of her performance. Her character is such a mass of contradictions, that I blame much of her issues on the writing and direction. She is better when she plays the second role of her mother, but these are ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ moments that don’t make much of an impression. Between Sara Ali Khan’s over-acting and Dhanush’s manipulative character, by the end of the film I really had had enough of this irritating couple!
End of major spoilers
A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack is a real plus for the film and I really enjoyed the songs. I also found the interplay between Dhanush and Akshay funny with some good comedy in the various looks and side glances between the main characters. Perhaps it’s because he’s not in the film all that much, but I found Akshay much less irritating than usual, although the OTT touches with the tricks and performances did wear thin very quickly. How come no-one’s hero is ever a car mechanic or something more normal in these films? But by far and away the main reason to watch Atrangi Re is Dhanush. Despite playing a selfish and inconsiderate character, he is as charming as ever and ensures we are invested in his story. I just wish it had been more sensible! 3 stars (all for Dhanush!)
Hey Heather, hope all is well with you. I liked AR a lot more than you did. I think one of the prerequisites is that you not apply any standards of realism or believability to the characters and events; you just have to take them at face value and go with the flow. This film is a lot like Indian masala movies of yore, which would come up with all kinds of cockamamie therapies for insane or delusional characters. What I felt is that once you accept the conceit of the script, it is very true to its characters. The writing is a product of imagination and emotion, and not just a calculation of marketable ingredients. The emotions are big, and you can really see a maker that is batting for the fences with sheer audaciousness.
Anyway, that’s my 2 bits. So far as movies with delusional characters go, I liked this one a good deal more than Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha.
My frustration with the film was mostly the instantaneous love and then the terrible treatment of Rinku by people who ought to know better – ie doctors! There are so many older Hindi films that have equally dodgy medical treatments and it always makes me cringe, even as I appreciate the crazy masala of it all!
I do see what you mean though and the emotional scenes mostly work well. I haven’t seen Tamasha, but from what you have said, it doesn’t sound like I need to!
@Tamasha, I will put the YMMV caveat. Lots of people I know loved Tamasha and thought it was very imaginative. It’s certainly a very good looking film with a trendy fashion sense.
Thanks! Although the only Imtiaz Ali film I’ve ever really enjoyed is Jab We Met. I’m so far behind in my list of films I want to watch, but maybe I will get to Tamasha one day 🙂
Your kitten method is brilliant and adorable. I enjoyed this movie, although MS was nearly enough to ruin it at points and I doubt it will be a rewatch. I’m intrigued that the medical aspect didn’t bother me when that was clearly a dealbreaker for so many other viewers. I think I may have gone through too many health crises to expect altruism or even baseline good intentions from doctors anymore, lolsob. But at unfunny “comedy” I draw the line!
If you are interested in a thoughtful Bolly film about mental illness, “Baseraa” (Raakhee-Rekha-Shashi movie from 1981) might be worth a watch. The last five minutes are INFURIATING, but everything before that is serious and humanistic.
A Raakhee-Rekha-Shashi film sounds worth a watch for sure. There are quite a few previous Shashi films where he has bizarre medical issues, although dodgy medical practices are a common issue in all films, not just those from India!
Medical miracles in films bug me because then when I work in medical camps, people expect impossible cures – not all the time, but enough that it’s frustrating. I think that’s why I always notice incorrect medical information – but then social media is worse!!
And yes, that’s the other insult – the ‘comedy’ around Rinku’s condition just isn’t funny at all – it would have much more forgivable if it made me laugh.
Glad we agree 🙂
Ooh, there’s also “Pighalta Aasman” with Raakhee and Shashi (no Rekha this time, sadly), in which Raakhee suffers from a Terrible Movie Disease that causes hand-animated red squigglies to attack the screen whenever she gets a fever. It’s a really lovely movie, one of only a handful of older films I’ve seen give serious consideration to middle-aged romance. . . but I can’t help but giggle whenever she catches the squigglies!