Atrangi Re Review (SPOILERS): Practically Unbelievable, Emotionally Real

Yaaaaay, a review of a new movie! That I really really liked!!! With people in it that I really really like, and also Akshay. Although here Akshay is reminding me why I used to like him.

Whole plot in two paragraphs:

Dhanush is a Tamil med student studying in Delhi who is on a mission trip to rural Bihar with his class before going home to his village for his engagement. Sara is a Bihari girl who keeps running away from home where her family hates her and beats her. Her family kidnaps Dhanush and drugs him and drugs Sara and forces them to marry and then puts them back on the train to Delhi. Once they talk, Dhanush learns that Sara is in love with a circus magician and keeps trying to run away to him. And Sara learns that Dhanush is engaged. The plan is for them to get to Delhi and then separate. Only Sara’s boyfriend is out of the country, so Dhanush takes her back to his dorm for now. And then invites her to come with him to his village for the engagement. At the engagement, Dhanush’s fiancee figures out something is going on between them and then finds a photo of the forced marriage. She is furious and her father is furious and it ends with Dhanush declaring Sara IS his wife and taking her back to Delhi with him, where he tells her in Tamil that he is in love with her all of a sudden and it is killing him that she is going to leave him for her lover. At which point Akshay, the lover, shows up. And Dhanush’s friend goes to meet them to give them money and learns AKSHAY ISN’T REAL. He is a hallucination of Sara’s.

Dhanush’s friend is a psychiatrist and explains that during her childhood trauma, Sara invented someone to love her for herself. And once she started to fall in love with Dhanush, she got scared and suddenly her lover “appeared”. They will give her medicine and let her spend time with Dhanush until she forgets her lover. Dhanush patiently and lovingly spends time with Sara and her delusion, wooing her into forgetting her lover. Sara begins to doubt Akshay more and more until, finally, she “can’t find him”. Dhanush takes her to the train station to find “Akshay” and say good-bye. And finally she remembers everything. Akshay was her father, her mother’s lover. They eloped but her family found her mother and her and dragged them home. Her mother took her and ran away again, they were briefly united with Akshay, and then the family found them again and killed her parents in front of her. She started imagining Akshay ever since then, the person who always loved and supported her. But now she is ready to let go of him and confront reality since she has found love and a safe place in real life. She says good-bye to Akshay and runs to Dhanush who is waiting for her.

Sara-Dhanush's chemistry looks WOW in Atrangi Re - Rediff.com movies

What makes this film work is Sara and Dhanush. Dhanush, for those who don’t know, is Rajinikanth’s son-in-law. And also, a star and respected actor in his own right. He started young, very young, so although he is only 38 now, he had a 20 year career. I told you, YOUNG!!!! You can see that in this performance. Just, massive acting experience, gone from the trying to hard, to the lazy star roles, and back again to the trying without looking like you are trying. And Sara, so far as I am concerned, is the most talented young actress working today. As one of the few people who actually got what she was doing in LAK, I have high HIGH hopes for her. And in this film, she delivers again. A performance that could have been wacky or tragic instead straggles the line between the two and is somehow both at once.

The typical way for this story to happen would have been a couple in a forced marriage, they hate each other, they fight, the audience knows they will fall in love because that is how plots work, but it takes FOREVER. But this movie goes in a way that is more surreal but far less dramatic and, well, stressful. Dhanush is in love with Sara from the start, gets a full on slow motion silly expression when he sees her. And Sara stars flirting with him almost from the start. The audience knows these characters are in love, and Dhanush knows he is in love AND that Sara loves him even if she isn’t ready to say it yet. Because she almost said it. That’s not the issue. The issue is Sara working through her internal trauma to reach a point of being ready to be married.

Really, this is the same movie as Love Aaj Kal. But everyone hated that movie because “nothing happened”. Take that same story, Sara working through trauma to be able to accept love, and make the internal trauma external with Akshay, and suddenly it is clear what is happening.

The other story this reminds me of is Mouna Ragam, Mani Ratnam’s classic slow post-marriage romance. In that case, the lover is a real person, who tragically died in front of our heroine and we don’t find out until after she is married. It’s a great movie, but my biggest issue is with that lover and the death. It doesn’t feel integrated into the rest of the film, our heroine seems overall happy and untraumatized. But in this film, from the start, we have an integrated trauma.

We know Sara hates her family in a violent ugly way. The fact that they drug her and drug a kidnapped groom and force them to marry each other tells us that. Learning that she has created a hallucination as a coping mechanism makes sense. Especially since it also explains why she is still capable of love and joy, since she had her imaginary love to keep her going the whole time. The trauma is consistent with the whole story, and Akshay making that trauma visible is just a better way to tell the story in the film medium. And Akshay does a REALLY good job with his role. He is shallow and fake and over the top feeling, and then suddenly at the end when her real memories come forward, he is deep and heartbreaking.

I also applaud the film for finding the line between laughing at family abuse and letting it overwhelm the film. In Tanu Weds Manu, Kangana’s family drugs her into marriage and it is “funny”. That’s a mistake, which Aanand L Rai corrects here. The forced marriage sequence itself can be played for laughs, but a family that would do such a thing is straight up abusive, not “funny”. On the other hand, I don’t want to see a film that gives me a million speeches about forced marriages and so on. This film accepts that Sara’s family is horrible, and everyone knows they are horrible, and we don’t need to keep talking about it.

Another film this keeps bringing to me is Judgemental Hai Kya. Which also had visible hallucinations, but I HATED that movie because it made those hallucinations into an element of power. In this film, Akshay is fun, but sort of shallow? As the film continues, he loses his magic (literally). He feels like something Sara can outgrow and be stronger afterwards. He is a flaw in her, if that makes sense? There is more magic in her time with Dhanush than there is in her hallucination. We want her to be healthy, to move on.

But really, again, the movie is just about Dhanush and Sara. It’s two well written characters performed by two excellent actors and the film just sinks into their chemistry and their pleasant little story. Isn’t that nice? No big set pieces, no huge concept, ultimately just a story of two people falling in love.

26 thoughts on “Atrangi Re Review (SPOILERS): Practically Unbelievable, Emotionally Real

  1. This has become my ultimate comfort movie. So much sadness, but also happiness at the same time. A moment can be so romantic and heartbreaking at the same time. I LOVE THIS MOVIE SO MUCH! While the trauma in LAK 2 is a bit overwhelming, which is why it is not a favourite rewatch of the movie, here, it is laced with fantasy and a little more raw romance that helps it on rewatches. Not to mention the many things you catch while seeing the choreography of the songs, the background action and just the little subtle things in acting.

    It seems almost like Aanand L. Rai got an Imtiaz Ali epiphany and realised the mistakes he did in making those early and big films and decided to make a small full-on romance with no cynicism whatsoever. As you said, redeeming his earlier attempts by putting the genuine feeling into it. Dhanush from a toxic stalker in Raanjhaana to the ultimate dream man/husband in this is a BIG upgrade.

    The world also feels so lived in. It is not about perfect stylized or cleaned environments. It is about real people, real problems, not perfect clothes, messy hair, dirty streets, crowded busses and railways, but with a fantasy aspect that makes it as romantic as the romance itself. Not to mention the background extras or students just going about their business that adds so much more realism and in a way ‘fantasy’ to the film, because those ultra-popular Dharma movies rarely show those parts in full. Here we get a whole scene of that when Dhanush takes his slipper and runs after his friend to have a friendly spat with him. Add to this the romantic scenes and it is just overwhelming with raw emotion that you can almost taste through the scene. It is so hard-hitting and so perfect in that.

    Fun thing, Dhanush and Sara meet first time on a railway and then they reunite back on a railway. These little circle back motifs, like with the bottles, dancing and such are so nice to watch and notice. It’s the subtle micro acting just like in LAK 2 that makes this movie so good!!! People have got to rewatch that movie after this to see that Sara has always been great and hopefully, understand that Imtiaz Ali hasn’t lost his touch or anything.

    I might have more later on, but these are the things that jumped to me right now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes to the recurring themes! It’s just such a subtly well-constructed film. Like, the little girl in the romance flashback which I think we all noticed, and later learn that Sara was the little girl. But also, when she is first brought home and I think at some other points, we see a real little girl in the background watching her. It’s not a perfect clear single message, it’s just a theme running through tying it all together, the little girls trapped in that house and watching and learning from what they see. Train passengers, over and over there are train scenes where the other passengers observe/become part of the central plot just by being in the background.

      The story is sort of loose and “nothing happens”, but having all these recurring visual touches makes it feel cohesive even without a traditional beginning-middle-end.

      On Wed, Dec 29, 2021 at 12:21 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I finished the movie only 3 hour ago but I think that Atrangi Re is my new Aanand L. Rai favourite.

    He is such a strange director. I have seen 5 of his films so far. 2 of them I love: Atrangi Re and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. One movie I’m indifferent / slightly negative to (TWM) and the 2 remaining I hate with all my heart (Zero and Raanjhanaa). When he is good he is good, but when he is bad he manages to make me super angry.. Really a strange guy, but great producer. I love everything he has produced. I’m so happy Atrangi Re is also good. I was affraid it will be terrible.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Isn’t Dhanush the PERFECT Angie hero? I just showed Chaka Chaka to a friend whose response was “this guy looks so boring”. Which made me think “ah! Superficially boring dude! Angie Catnip!”

      On Wed, Dec 29, 2021 at 2:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Absolutely! Not only a good guy with a big heart and a nerd, he is also a southerner! And so patient. I already wrote it in the watchalong post but will repeat it here: isn’t the patience one of the sexiest things in a man?

        But for unknown reason the best and sexiest guy in my heart remains Vikrant in Haseen Dillruba. I was sure Dhanush will dethrone him, but no.

        Liked by 1 person

        • And sweet! And not good at standing up for himself but good at standing up for others! And Dhanush even filled out a little bit just to try to win you over.

          On Wed, Dec 29, 2021 at 2:56 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. loved the movie – but so worried for the Dhanush character! She’s schizophrenic! Marrying crazy is hard! Not saying she is bad or not worth it, but it isn’t an easy road ahead.

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    • What I love is that we can see why it would be worth it to him. Sara is just delightful to be around, and clearly loves and cares for him. Also, it is good that he is a doctor and so are most of his friends. I loved seeing how everyone in the med school just rolled with Sara’s issues.

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  4. I tried watching the movie on the first day with my family and we turned it off in about 40 min…the initial bits just didn’t make sense – What is with this magician in Africa? Why is she dancing at Dhanush’s engagement? etc. etc…..we just thought it’s silly and turned it off

    But now that you explained the plot…I get it…will definitely give it another shot.

    I guess that’s the one problem with streaming…its so easy to give up on a movie…

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  5. Yes thank you for getting it!! The more and more I think about this movie the more I love it. It’s really a movie about two people in love with each other but one of them having an internal struggle with trauma. Similar to LAK2 but I enjoy this movie more. Also as everyone is saying it’s not afraid of having grand sweeping emotion at all which is part of the reason why it resonated with me so much. Don’t understand why people would want to bypass all of the emotion in favor for finding logic. Still surprised at how well Sara and Dhanush were able to pull off the romance as well as they did and if I have to watch akshay in a movie from the past 10 years I could do much worse. I really like Zero and Raanjhanaa (find the central pair here toxic fyi) but completely understand why people hate them but I think that atrangi re is one of ALR’s most palatable movies yet and has maybe one of his best romantic arcs.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I didn’t realize till I was in bed last night that in her flashbacks SHE was her mother. So obvious and yet I didn’t get it. Also this thing about mentioning or not mentioning COVID – some watchers were bummed they used COVID to get her to take her medicine – at this point, after two years of world wide pandemic, how can a movie claim any realism without mentioning it?

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    • I’m very curious how films will handle it moving forward. What struck me was that it was dealing with COVID as something in the past, which makes it hit wrong right now where we are dealing with a new wave. But then, I guess that makes it more timeless? Because 5 years from now (hopefully), we can watch it with an acknowledgement of COVID as a thing that happened.

      On Thu, Dec 30, 2021 at 10:55 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. I was thinking now and there is on weak thing in this film- Dhanush seems to be affraid of his fiancee, or better is affraid to do something wrong because her father is dean and can cause some problems with Dhanush’s studies if he will not be happy. But then he does the worst thing, the wedding is called off but there are no repercussions, not even minor ones. Dhanush continues his studies and even brings the girl to the dormitory, nobody says a word. I wish the dean was mentioned at least once to close this part, especially because Dhanush repeats few times how he is affraid of his father-in-law.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are right, I missed that playing out as well. I can explain it, that maybe he was just a coward who was afraid when he didn’t have to be and after that moment at the wedding he wasn’t afraid any more. But I wish they had one scene explaining it, something like him telling his friend “I was always afraid of the Dean, and then I stood up to him and nothing happened, so I won’t be afraid again”

      On Thu, Dec 30, 2021 at 1:08 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Also no repercussions with his family. Everyone gets on the bus and it is all good?!? Hard to believe mom & dad don’t have a bit more to say about it.

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      • On the one hand, I can kind of buy it since he is a Boy and already living away from home, so presumably has more autonomy. And I can also buy it because seeing that again would be just so BORING, I’m done with family issues. But yes, one scene of his father saying “it’s okay son, we never really liked the other girl anyway” would have been good. Or maybe bad? Would that just make it more unbelievable?

        On Thu, Dec 30, 2021 at 5:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Maybe they had such a scene and chose to cut it. That is what I choose to believe, before I watch the movie again. Oh – I like Dhanush, and I LIKE his dancing. What other movie should I see of his?

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          • Oh my! There are SO many!!! I’ve only seen a few myself. VIP I guess is a good one? And Maari and Maari 2? And otherwise I will leave it to other people to recommend.

            On Sat, Jan 1, 2022 at 12:26 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  8. I was having a thought – would we as an audience be less sympathetic to the Sara Ali Khan character if she was a he? Is mental illness somehow more acceptable in women? What would you say to your female friend if she were about the marry a man with serious mental health problems? Is the fact that we accept mental illness in females more than in males a sign of patriarchy?

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    • Hmm. I think it’s less about Sara Ali Khan and more about Dhanush. If a woman is dating a man with mental illness, or any sort of situation that requires care, I would be worried that it was cultural conditioning to be a caregiver that was keeping her there, not actual affection. But with Dhanush making that choice then it’s clearly a choice to me, no pressure.

      On Thu, Jan 13, 2022 at 3:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Well I think the fact that he was actually married to her and she had no place to go does add a bit of pressure! But after I wrote this I thought of a friend who did have a mental break with reality, where he thought his girlfriend was out to get him and that he was Jesus. And I’ve known him A LONG time, and I would never discourage anyone from marrying him. Also, he had one mental break with reality that lasted for a period of two or three weeks, NOT seven + years. But if I had a friend who fell in love with a guy WHILE he was having a mental break, I can’t imagine I would encourage her. And if one of my sons fell in love with a crazy woman, I would be kinda bummed. It is often genetic, my grandkids would be more likely to suffer problems, it is a life of more work. But yet, but yet, my once was Jesus friend, who I know well, is truly a special & wonderful person.

        That said, I do suspect our willingness to accept crazy in women over men could be a sign of patriarchy – after all the women aren’t traditionally providers.

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  9. I’ve been on an Atrangi Re kicked and have watched it repeatedly – and now the thing that bothers me, is her clothes. Sara Ali Khan’s clothes are beautiful. And yet when she first arrived at the dormitory, carrying a suitcase, she said she had no clothes and wore his. But somehow she got clothes for the Engagement party, and amazing clothes to wear for songs like little little and more. Really beautiful expensive looking clothes, with a permenant mustard yellow accent piece. Where did the clothes come from? As a student how could he afford to get her such pretty clothes?

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    • I’m okay with it because a) Dhanush is totally besotted and clearly will spend beyond his means to make her happy, and b) weddings involve a lot of free clothes. Her Chaka Chak outfit, that could have easily been picked up from one of the many free saris floating around at a wedding. And her other clothes were nice, but not quite out of the budget for a med school resident for me.

      On Sat, Jan 15, 2022 at 5:18 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Yay! I’m so happy that you’re like me and have watched it repeatedly. It is such a good rewatch movie for all the details in it. Also, the romance is so strong. It’s such a good comfort movie in the best of ways.

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