I will be thanking Atrangi Re (2021) for making me want to watch this movie after a very long time. I had the faint memory of feeling disappointed when I first watched it. This time though, it wasn’t the case and I was pleasantly surprised. It even made me cry in the end.
In Banaras/Varanaisi, Kundan has been in love with Zoya since he was a little boy. He pursues her, but she refuses his advances, since he is Hindu and she is Muslim. Zoya leaves for eight years, with Kundan eagerly awaiting the return of his love. When Zoya returns she reveals that she is in love with someone else. However, things go tragically wrong and Kundan begins a long journey of repentance for his previous actions.
Spoilers for an almost ten-year-old movie!
Aanand L. Rai is slowly growing on me as a director. I think when I first saw Raanjhanaa I was too young to appreciate or to understand this film. Now, having grown and with plenty of heartbreak in the past I can see the themes he tackles and how fine his directing is. There isn’t a wrong shot in this movie, maybe only just stuff I wished had been explored more with the side characters. Some shots are almost repeats of the ones shown in Atrangi Re, showing is hand in knowing what shots work. I won’t complain, it is nice to see the repeated shots from this movie in Atrangi Re, since the two are so thematically connected. Both share a hero, the themes of love mixed with a kind of madness and a world that has their toe in magical realism to an extent. Though the world is clearly shown to be our own realistic world, which I do appreciate. They also share a composer. To sound like an old record, A. R. Rahman’s score is fantastic, the background music being a highlight. I especially have a soft spot for ‘Tum Tak’ and the celebratory title song. Maybe I like those because they are the innocent happiness before the film goes into its twisted psychological examinations of its characters.
Dhanush as Kundan is just masterful in this role. Growing from the naive smitten boy into a strong-willed man, who still has the heart of the boy. His actions are completely one from the heart, even masochistic at times. This contrasted with his very soft voice and innocent smile makes the actions he makes and the madness he hold even more worrying of a contrast. Kundan is madly in love, in the truest sense of the word. He knows Zoya doesn’t feel the same as he does for her, but as long as she is happy it will make him happy, even if it hurts like Hell. The love he has is unconditional, but not a healthy kind. For healthy growth one must move on, but he never does. We see it till the end. A mere touch from Zoya gives him ecstasy, he forgets his own wedding day and does not think of anyone else but his own feelings in the name of Zoya, nor the repercussions that might come. Dhanush’s whole body conveys the emotions of his character, his eyes and hands especially. For his first step into Hindi film he did a fantastic job and I am so glad that he has returned with Atrangi Re. He is fast becoming one of my favourite actors.
Sonam Kapoor as Zoya is a little off for me, but not much. She embodies this young girl and woman who is a little cold, a little calculating, a bit of a tease and manipulative in trying to get what she wants. She is still human and her journey is one we can also relate to. Brought up in a conservative family she rebels even by being familiar with Kundan, one of her little ways. She ends up being part of a plan to kill Kundan as revenge for his deeds. Thus, becoming as mad as he, only to a larger extreme. Sonam does a good job, I guess I just wished for a little more. She seems to be in her own little bubble, even though she interacts with others. Maybe it is the direction or how her character is supposed to be, but she did leave me a bit cold.
Madness is a recurring theme. No sane person would go to the lengths the characters do. A kind of madness can be seen in almost all the characters, not just Kundan and Zoya. Swara Bhaskar’s character Bindiya has been in love with Kundan since they were children. Even if it would be healthy for her to stop and move on, she doesn’t. Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub as Kundan’s friend Murari tries to talk sense to Kundan, but still helps him and in the end, in Kundan’s own words, goes mad. Abhay Deol’s as Zoya’s love Jasjeet is also mad in a way, going through the process of pretending to be Muslim to get married to Zoya with her orthodox parents approval. Zoya is mad for suggesting such a plan as well. Madness, the rage that makes us not think, takes a hold of each of these characters.
This story is also about forgiveness. As an audience you can root for these characters and hate them at the same time. Kundan and Zoya do horrible things, but they both try to repent. It is up to us to judge is it has been enough or not. There are no easy answers in this. In a sense, they both do an “eye for an eye” for each other. Kundan by doing pilgrimages to holy sites, avoiding the painful confrontation, until he ultimately sacrifices himself. Zoya by taking part in the political plot to kill him and then exposing what she did publicly. They are both united in a twisted version of both love and hate with each other that neither can let go. It is quite the Masochistic Tango with everyone in this movie. It is painful to watch, wanting the best for these characters, but knowing it won’t come. That itself is a kind of madness, repeating the same actions, only to expect a different outcome. Kundan doesn’t realise it, but it is for us in the audience to realise this for the toxic mad love that it is.
In the end, this film is more about love and madness when brought to the most extreme, asking when is it enough or when would be best to stop. Is death the only end result or is there another way? Can we ever be redeemed? Can we ever truly let go? These questions stayed with me when the movie ended. Maybe the best way is not the literal death, but a metaphorical one. To let go before we are destroyed, so that we may go on the twisted, uncertain stream of life to have a chance to actually live that life, instead of expecting something we already subconsciously know will never be.
Thank you for reading!