Director: Aanand L Rai
Writer: Himanshu Sharma
Music: AR Rahman
Cast: Dhanush, Sara Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
I don’t like the idea of understanding a film. I don’t believe that rational understanding is an essential element in the reception of any work of art. Either a film has something to say to you or it hasn’t. If you are moved by it, you don’t need it explained to you. If not, no explanation can make you moved by it. Aanand L Rai’s Atrangi Re moved me. With this film, the director and his longtime collaborator, writer Himanshu Sharma again flirt with a twisted tale. When you’re walking into a film created by this duo you are prepared for eccentric characters and unexpected twists and turns which demand complete suspension of disbelief from your side.
Narratives like these walk the thin line of coming across as fabulous or ridiculous. It requires mastery of storytelling to narrate tales like these. Aanand L Rai has often succeeded in telling such stories – Tanu Weds Manu/Returns, Raanjhanaa. While writing was the driving force behind Tanu Weds Manu franchise and Raanjhanaa, Atrangi Re lacks clarity and sharpness in writing. The film revolves around Sara Ali Khan’s Rinku, it is Dhanush’s Vishu who steals the show. There’s something strangely spectacular in the ease with which he behaves in front of the camera. My favorite scene of the film is when Vishu expresses his feelings for Rinku in Tamil. There were no subtitles, it was intentional from the director, I presumed, but Dhanush’s eyes convey the agony.
Rinku is a challenging role for any actor to pull off. Sara has that fire but lacks the consistency. The strain on her face is visible in some key moments of the film. But she is spot on in the climax sequence where she has to emote without the help of words. The chemistry between Sara’s Rinku and Akshay Kumar’s Sajjad must have been difficult to get right as it fluctuates between lover and an elderly statesman in Rinku’s life. The big twist in the tale leaves you speechless for some time but the overall handling of the mental disorder is broad strokes. There’s not much for Akshay Kumar to do in the film but putting his might behind Atrangi Re is commendable.
The biggest payoff of the film is AR Rahman’s music and background score. Whether it is the energetic Chaka Chak where Sara dances like a dream or the soulful Rait Zara Si (lyrics by Irshad Kamil), the maestro is in full form. The film was shot during the ongoing Covid pandemic but production designer Nitin Zihani Choudhary creates a world which looks lived in. The deal breaker for me was Manish Malhotra’s costumes. The designer salwar-kameez and sarees in which Sara flaunts her perfectly toned abs take away the naturalness of her character given the milieu she comes from.
What I took away from the film was the intent of storytelling which is so pure. One can observe this in all of Rai’s films – more heart than art. And the heart wants what it wants. Atrangi Re is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. Check it out.