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Atrangi Re: A Film Tough To Love, Or Hate

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Atrangi Re story leaves you with mixed feelings: Almost two weeks after I watched it, director Aanand L Rai’s film Atrangi Re continues to lurk in my mind. I cannot think of another Hindi film that left me feeling so conflicted. I want to hate it but can’t bring myself to reject it completely. And then I want to love it but can’t bring myself to do that, because the problems with it cannot be overlooked so easily.

Starring Sara Ali Khan, Dhanush and Akshay Kumar, Atrangi Re is the story of a Bihari girl named Rinku Suryavanshi, who is married against her will to Vishu- a medical student from Tamil Nadu who is studying in Delhi. Now since this is a Bollywood film, when Rinku and Vishu come to an agreement that neither of them wants this marriage, instead of annulling it straightaway and going their separate ways, they decide to be joined at the hip, leading to disastrous consequences.

Close to the interval of the film, we find out that the “other” man in Rinku’s life, with whom she has tried to run away innumerable times against her family’s wishes, actually doesn’t exist. While this twist positions the film at an interesting juncture, this is also the point where it begins to get messy. Vishu’s friend, who reminds us multiple times that he is a psychiatrist actually calls Rinku a piece that belongs in a state museum. His reaction to finding out about Rinku’s mental health issues is to run wild on the streets of Delhi, drag Vishu out of surgery and go on a rant. It takes him no time crack Rinku’s history and gives a diagnosis despite having come across the problem barely minutes, or hours ago. This leads to a problematic portrayal of mental health issues and even more problematic championing of medications that should be given to psychiatric patients.


Suggested Reading: Atrangi Re: 7 Things It Gets Wrong About Mental Health


However, despite its sexism (Vishu’s friend always claiming to know women and understand their behaviour simply because he is a psychiatrist) and facepalm treatment of mental health, I could not bring myself to outright reject the film. And days after having watched it, I often wonder why? Is it because of AR Rahman’s hummable songs like Little Little and Rait Zara Si? Is it because Dhanush has the power to compel to you suspend your disbelief with his performance? Or because despite its problems Atrangi Re tries to do something different, and while it might not get the solution right, it does make us empathise with Rinku’s problems?

Now, I haven’t seen Rai’s previous film Zero which had also divided the audience on a similar scale. But having watched his other films like Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu and its sequel, I know Rai’s penchant for making films that are somehow engrossing yet problematic to watch. It is as if he loves to mess with our heads and wants us to hate ourselves for enjoying films that don’t sit well with our evolved sensibilities.

Love it or hate it, we have to agree that Atrangi Re is a one of its kind film as it challenges the constraints of Indian cinema with mixed results. On some days it seems like anger is what I actually feel when I think of Atrangi Re– because it has so much potential and simply fails to deliver on the surreal premise that it created.

Views expressed are the author’s own.