Atrangi Re Review

 Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Dhanush, Akshay Kumar, Ashish Verma, Dimple Hayathi, Seema Biswas

Director: Aanand L Rai

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Aanand L. Rai's Atrangi Re has an unusual premise all right. But try as hard as it and A.R. Rahman's lively musical score may, the love story is unable to convert its pivotal plot twist into anything more than a single-trick show. The gossamer-thin storyline strains credibility. But that is the least of the film's problems. It also takes an appallingly cavalier stance on mental trauma and its long-term effects.

One character in Atrangi Re (streaming on Disney+Hotstar) declares that nobody has ever understood psychological disorders. The film takes that assertion at face value and spins a flimsy yarn around it, totally unmindful of the fact that it only trivialises the pain of a mind in need of succour.

Dhanush, who plays a Tamil boy in his final year in a Delhi medical college, is wonderfully nimble in a role that requires him to capture a wide range of moods - from the facetious to the flummoxed to the forceful. But then Dhanush is such a natural that he can extract value even from a character as underwritten as the one he is saddled with here.

S Venkatesh Vishwanath 'Vishu' Iyer - yes, that is the character's full name, which, you've guessed it, yields a moment that the film would have us believe is funny - is the sort of guy who leaves nothing to chance. His life is all set: he is about to become a doctor and his engagement to the dean's daughter is only a couple of days away.

Why on earth he makes a trip to Siwan in Bihar with his best pal Madhusudhan (Ashish Verma) - the sojourn constitutes the opening of Atrangi Re - isn't explained. Suffice it to say that the outing is ill-fated. One scene has Vishu atop a telephone pole from where he calls his fiancée Mandakini (Dimple Hayathi) to assure her that he will be in Chennai in time for the engagement ceremony.

A couple of sequences earlier, as Vishu alights from the train, he witnesses a despairing girl (Sara Ali Khan) on the run from a bunch of men determined not to let her get away. His friend dissuades him from springing to her aid, reminding him that this is rural Bihar where "federal law" does not hold sway. If that is meant to be a joke, it is entirely on the film!

And then, a couple of sequences later, the girl - her name is Rinku Suryavanshi, she is a Thakur, her parents are long dead and she lives in her maternal grandmother's home where nobody has any patience for the love of her life, a peripatetic magician named Sajjad Ali Khan (Akshay Kumar) - is drugged and forced into marriage with Vishu.

The bridegroom has been randomly kidnapped by Rinku's maternal uncles on the order of her naani (Seema Biswas), who decides that it is time to get rid of the troublesome girl for good and save the family's honour.

What are the chances of a film such as Atrangi Re passing up the opportunity to play up Vishu's linguistic identity? Nil. Somebody in Rinku's family berates the kidnappers for pouncing on somebody from India's nichla hissa (lower part). We are all Indians, says the girl's granny by way of recompense. How generous!

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