The new release from Aanand L Rai camp does not really live up to its literal translation, that is, funnily weird; it is more about deep rooted bigotry, misogyny and age old custom of relieving one’s responsibility of being a parent/guardian to a girl child by forcibly marrying her off without her consent. Though the word consent here is quite “Atrangi” (funnily weird) in itself as it doesn’t really exist in the Indian society.
Just as the female lead Rinku laments about the Delhi air, “Bas saans nahi le sakte, baaki sab theek hai” (I can’t breathe; everything else is alright) the film too gasps for breath as it’s nothing but a severely disturbing portrayal of mental health thus ending up into being nothing but a contrived mess which evokes anything laughter.
But yes, what’s really “Atrangi” about the film is the mindset of Rinku’s family who might be quite a power to reckon with in the small town of Siwan in Bihar but are immensely powerless when it comes to her upbringing or understanding her. Rinku was a child when she witnessed her parents’ death-they were burnt alive by her family under the supervision of her maternal grandmother. And from then Rinku’s life stops even though she grows up to be a fine woman whose aim is to look for love that’s from someone (whom no one has actually seen) known as Sajjad Ali Khan.
She lives in a state of denial about the non-existence of Sajjad who according to her made her elope 21 times in the last 7 years of her life.
As Rinku’s family struggles to manage her they resort to what best Indian families at times follow-regression and force. They abduct an innocent medical student, Vishu (who is unfortunately committed to another girl and is due to get engaged to her in three days) and get him married off to Rinku under the influence of laughing gas! Really? Isn’t that what is the real “Atrangi” scenario in the plot of the film? But I guess the film crew would deny just as Rinku who lives in a constant denial that Sajjad is nothing but a figment of her imagination.
As the story progresses and denouements towards the climax we come across the real truth behind what’s expected to be taken with a pinch of salt or laughed out about-Rinku’s precarious mental health condition wherein Sajjad a magician is originally her father! The story further delves deep into a common notion about how most daughters seek a parallel between their father and their life partner. Rinku does the same without realizing how as a child she was too smitten by her father’s brave antics at the circus and his outrageous act of marrying her mother in spite of societal problems; the only issue herein is how her mind portrays Sajjad her father as Sajjad her lover.
Vishu being a medical student detects this mental condition quite early but unfortunately treats it as a joke rather than a real malady! To add to this insensitivity is his close friend Madhusudan who perhaps thinks himself to be a sidekick first and a psychiatrist later. This is precisely what makes “Atrangi Re” a story lost somewhere in probing more about love rather than rooting for mental well being.
As a typical Aanand L Rai film the plot revolves around a boy and a girl meeting under mysterious circumstances until Cupid strikes. Moreover to justify the title the story gets further entangled into weirder twists and turns until it all becomes outlandish and the audience lose interest . Besides the stereotypes around Biharis and South Indians become too conspicuously glaring and into your face that it no longer seems acceptable.
Though the film is intrinsically all about mental illness but just as an onion it unravels in a different way every time it’s peeled layer by layer. According to The Hindu, “The spectacular premise is rooted in mental illness, but seeks to probe the layers of the heart. It talks of human vulnerabilities and selfless love. It talks of letting go of the past and embracing the present. A metaphor works in many ways; Rinku could well be the Sita of yesterday or a reflection on the India of today.”
However what makes “Atrangi Re” a major failure is it’s deplorable portrayal of mental health conditions. But again as they say the reel is an adaption of the real so perhaps the film justifies the actual scenario behind mental health conditions of major individuals in India and how often it is dismissed as another unintelligible facet of the human existence.