Aanand L. Rai is an odd director for me. I have only seen his Raanjhanaa (2013) and even that was a long time ago. The Tanu Weds Manu movies did not appeal to me (except one song from the second movie) and I doubt I will ever watch them now. Zero (2018) was one I watched, but just skipped to the parts with Katrina Kaif and the soundtrack for that is wonderful, especially ‘Heer Badnaam’ and ‘Mere Naam Tu’. His stories are odd, with characters you are free to dislike (they are very prominently flawed) and good soundtracks.
So, when I ended up watching his newest movie Atrangi Re almost twice in a row it surprised me. This most certainly a flawed movie, but with a big heart in its centre is the one that I ended up loving. It doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack is mesmerising.
Summary of the plot:
Rinku, a young woman from rural Bihar, has had a boyfriend since she was a teenager whom she tries to elope with. She is an orphan and her mother’s family plan on marrying her off for all the trouble she has been. The family kidnaps by mistake Vishu, a Tamilian studying in Delhi to be a surgeon, to be her groom. The two are forced to marry. Only Vishu has a girlfriend Mandy whom he is supposed to be engaged to in 2 days. Rinku reveals that she has a sweetheart who is too good to be true. Problems arise as the two embark on a journey together as husband and wife. Soon Vishu begins to realise the depths of his feelings and how he can help Rinku in her own troubles as well.
Spoilers ahead!! Read if you want to or go watch the movie and then come back!!
Unconditional love is the kind of love we all want, from our parents, our family, our friends and who we end up loving. It is the loving the person and understanding their flaws as they grow and change with time. That is the appeal of love stories, the unconditional shown by one party before the other realises or shows their own affection. It is also a painful, sacrificial and selfless love, for the betterment of the other rather than oneself. It hurts, but in the end that love is your own and no one else’s, to paraphrase a scene from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016).
Dhanush is the embodiment of this sacrificial, selfless love in the movie as Vishu. He falls for Rinku since he saw her, but did not know her and in time his love grows to a great love. Even his dedication to his girlfriend Mandy rings hollow as he is charmed by Rinku and defends her against his ex-in-laws. Rinku is the one that starts him questioning his love for Mandy when, post-wedding on a train, discuss each other’s lives. He is a quiet man, a surgeon that fixes people physically, but when it comes to mental illness he does only what he can, love and hope. Dhanush gets to both sing and dance in this and it is wonderful to see, his energy is infectious. His emotional scenes are the kind that will be remembered for a long time for the sincerity of the emotions and how the film lets him talk Tamil in those scenes. In one iconic scene at the end of the first act he is hiding his conflicted love between a language barrier, even though his teary eyes and gestures show it all too clearly.
Sara Ali Khan as Rinku is a strong minded young woman, once again making a fantastic performance as a vulnerable woman with mental health issues as she did in Love Aaj Kal (2020). I loved her in that movie and she is slowly, but surely becoming my favourite actress. Rinku is a broken person, traumatised from a young age from the death of her parents to her mother’s abusive family. She is so broken by the world that she imagines her father Sajjad (Akshay Kumar who is a bit odd in places) as the one she is meant to elope with, repeating the same patterns her mother did when she was young, only her love is both true and untrue. True in her mind and no one else’s. Slowly, as she drinks medicine and begins to fall for Vishu she realises she loves him, but is obligated to Sajjad. I tear up every time at the end as her trauma is cleaned by the very thing that started it, fire.
I should clarify that this film’s show or dialogue about the mental illness Rinku suffers from (said to be paracosm) should be taken with a large bucketful of salt. It is more aching to A Beautiful Mind (2001) in terms of its representation of its illness than my guess the professionals would like. It doesn’t help that Vishnu’s friend MS played by Ashish Verma is incompetent and comes off as someone who doesn’t fully know what he is doing. He even lumps many unrelated diagnosis together in one dialogue, which might/will do more harm than good. The magic of the love story is charming, but having the hard medical be so inaccurate is worrisome.
This film also shows some real problems in the society with enough light touch to make it digestible for a mass audience. There is the groom kidnapping, drugging and forced marriage between the pair. An ugly ritual that by miracle ends up as something good. There is respect on both sides and they want to sign the divorce papers, only for love to end up annulling the latter. The film takes dark subjects and executes them in a manner that will make it a conversation starter about many issues at least.
On the very positive side, the movie is brave in depicting a loving inter-faith relationship between Rinku’s parents. Her mother being Hindu and her father being Muslim. In a time when even good Muslim representation is hard to ask for this film thankfully is a fresh air when it doesn’t demonise the faith of one of the parent to revere another.
The soundtrack of A. R. Rahman is one for the ages, as his soundtracks so often are. I have been addicted to ‘Chaka Chak’ since it premiered, filled with bright colours, a traditional upbeat and Shreya Ghoshal’s serene voice. ‘Little Little’ is my second favourite, now with Dhanush himself singing and dancing, it is very adorable song. The songs are filled with feeling, a mix of Carnatic and Northern pop sounds. They have the usual calming effect Rahman’s music gives to the soul. In many ways it seems like a throwback to the movies of the late 90s to early 2000s with its melodies.
This film has flaws which I’ve already spoken about, but I still love it. What makes me gladly rewatch this film and listen to the music is that small part which is touched by this movie. The unconditional love, the melodies, the chemistry between the leads and its message. Apart from the flaws the film has, the message is ultimately on of pure, selfless and beautiful love. Is there not a better message than that?
Thank you for reading!