What is the story about?
Medical student Vishu gets kidnapped while on assignment in Siwan in Bihar, and is forcibly married to Rinku, a girl who has tried eloping multiple times in the past. While Vishu thinks of ways to extricate himself from this situation so that he can marry his fiancee Mandy, Rinku dreams of eloping successfully with her lover, the magician Sajjad. But what does destiny have in store for Vishu and Rinku?
Love him or hate him, but you can't deny that Aanand L. Rai has a tendency to take big swings in terms of cinematic vision. From Tanu Weds Manu to Zero, he has never shied away from showing the dark side of love in a North Indian milieu. He keeps up this tradition in Atrangi Re, where, instead of a guy stalking the girl and threatening to cut his wrists, we get a girl who backs herself constantly while trying to elope with her lover. After having mined Uttar Pradesh for these dark love tales, Rai shifts his focus to Bihar, and manages to wring out both humour and horror from a forced marriage between a drugged Rinku and an incapitated Vishu, in the middle of all sorts of talk about honour killings and intergenerational trauma. Once you catch your breath from the first fifteen or twenty minutes, which seem to run helter-skelter, the screenplay settles into a nice rhythm, and you actually feel the bond growing between Vishu and Rinku. The twist in the middle--or the interval point--is so brilliantly pulled off by Rai that you are totally caught unawares, and you wonder how the story will conclude.
Unfortunately, it seems as if Rai runs out of ideas after this. Executing the interval twist was one thing, but delivering the story to a conclusion in the most plausible manner required some imagination, and unfortunately this is where Atrangi Re falters. The leads share fantastic chemistry, and there are several great scenes between them, but you keep getting restless, and wonder when the ending will come. The finale is emotional and rings deep, but you wish the second half had been better plotted. Nevertheless, this is a welcome return to form for Rai, after the debacle of Zero.
Dhanush is expectedly charming as Vishu. His transition from an unsure fiance to a lover teetering on the brink of heartbreak is terrific to watch, and it is just a joy to see him switch effortlessly between Hindi and Tamil whenever he is agitated. Akshay Kumar plays Sajjad much in the same way as Krishna in OMG: Oh My God!, with a grin that hardly disappears from his face, but he is outstanding in the finale. Ashish Verma brings on the laughs as Vishu's college buddy Madhusudan, while Seema Biswas glowers as Rinku's malevolent grandmother in a small role.
But if Atrangi Re truly belongs to anyone, it is Sara Ali Khan. Exactly a year ago, everyone had panned her performance in David Dhawan's horrible update of Coolie No. 1. Yet, it is her larger-than-life exuberance and cockiness that fits the character of Rinku like a glove. With a slow Bihari drawl in her accent and those big-expressive eyes, Khan carries this entire film through, and she nails the tricky finale, which otherwise could have gone horribly wrong. This is her breakout moment, and one can only hope this is the start of a better innings for her in Hindi cinema.
Music & Other Departments
A.R. Rahman's score has already become a rage, and here too the songs serve their purpose, with Chaka Chak, Rait Zara Si and Little Little picturized beautifully. Pankaj Kumar's handheld camerawork is effective in close-up shots and reminds of his work on Haider, while Hemal Kothari's editing is on point.
Performances by Dhanush and Sara Ali Khan
The pitch-perfect first half
The twist at the interval
Larger themes in the screenplay such as honour killings and trauma
The second half seems to run out of steam before the emotional climax.
Did I enjoy it?
Yes, barring a few portions in the second half.
Do I recommend it?
Do watch it for Dhanush and Sara Ali Khan.