After watching Atrangi Re, I read the professionally written reviews to see if any matched mine- no, they were largely complimentary except for the one in First Post where the reviewer seemed as horror struck as me.
Then I scanned through the individual reviews on Google, I read a review by a seemingly young woman who praised Sara Ali Khan’s performance to the skies. How brave, how outspoken, how fun and free, how emancipated was the character of Rinku Sooryavanshi, she gushed. She hoped her own character were like Rinku’s…
I knew another Rinku, in real life. That Rinku was born not only in an other family, she was born in another time, 19th century, it seemed. My Rinku wasn’t brave or fun or high-spirited. Neither was her mother who was only 15 years older than her. Her mother would fetch her and drop her everywhere when the rest of us would be walking alone or in groups. Rinku was who we called ‘scholar’ in our times. Always studying, always topping, always the front bencher.
Nobody knew though that Rinku’s life was always in danger or how she and her mother fought bravely to keep her alive. They delayed informing the large joint family that Rinku had started menstruating at age 12. They only informed them at around age 14 when everyone started murmuring about talking to a doctor. By which time, Rinku was able to pass her 10th standard. She was in complete tenterhooks if she’d be able to finish her 12th but fortunately their family guru said that there was no shaadi ka yog, so she got a two-year reprieve and came on the state merit list. Her graduation became harder, they didn’t allow her to join Medical college because they expected her to be married shortly and also because even the men in her community didn’t study beyond a BA or a Bcom and no one would want to marry an overqualified medico. So for the next three years of BSc, the mother and daughter feigned a mysterious gynaecological issue for which the treatment would take time. Her trials didn’t stop when she graduated with a gold medal. The first woman to graduate in her very rich, elite community. But there was no celebration, just a mourning that there were no men willing to marry her now, she might as well keep studying. Rinku is now a scientist at one of the premier cancer research institutes in the US. Unmarried but living with a partner. Her mother often travels to meet her. They take annual vacations to different parts of world.
Rinku Sooryavanshi in Atrangi Re is a foul-mouthed, free spirited manic pixie trope of a woman, the Indian cis male idea of an emancipated modern woman. But she is a nothing. One of her love interests is a doctor and the other an illusionist. But Rinku exists only for her men, who lie to her, bully her, gaslight her, emotionally blackmail her and do not even allow her the agency of her body, to take her own medicines.
Her story has ended at her marriage, at becoming a wife whereas the men will go on to do great things. The men have lives outside of her, friendships, interests, careers. But she has nothing. And yet a young girl somewhere in the world has idolised her as a hero.
Why do I watch such regressive films, I’m asked. To join the dots of the two Rinkus. How the real Rinku would pay the price of the cinematic Rinku wanting only to be a wife.
If I didn’t watch Atrangi Re, would I have remembered my brave Rinku and her even braver mother, whose head was always under a pallu, who was determined to give her daughter a future, a life that she couldn’t have. I know who I’d give a Padmashri to.