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    Let’s not write off Sara Ali Khan just yet

    Let’s not write off Sara Ali Khan just yet

    Let’s not write off Sara Ali Khan just yet
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    By Sneha Bengani   IST (Published)

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    Contrary to popular opinion, Sara Ali Khan is one of the good things about Atrangi Re. She brings a lot more than her energy and earnestness to this Aanand L Rai film.

    Ahead of Atrangi Re’s release, its lead pair Dhanush and Sara Ali Khan did a promotional Koffee Shots episode with filmmaker Karan Johar. Talking about Rinku, Sara’s character in the movie, Dhanush said, “It’s a dream role for any actor. It’s so fantastic. When I heard the script, I told Aanand L Rai I wish I had Rinku.”
    Dhanush is right. It’s not every day that you get to see a woman like Rinku Sooryavanshi in a Hindi film. She’s as whimsical and fantastical as Atrangi Re. A Bihari girl raised by her maternal family who killed her parents when she was still young, she grows up trying to run away from her violent relatives. She fails each time. As an antidote to all the abuse, she finds refuge in her parents’ fabled love story, so much so that she starts to think of it as her own. And so her dead father becomes her imaginary protector and amour.
    This is not it. There’s more. Desperate to get rid of her, Rinku’s grandmother gets her married to the first boy her sons can find. He happens to be Vishu, a Tamil medico studying in Delhi, played with effortless charm by the ever-so-dependable Dhanush. Rinku’s story is rife with possibilities and potential. She’s everything Sara could have asked for at a time when she was recovering from the twin disasters that were Love Aaj Kal and Coolie No. 1.
    Not just Sara, it would have been challenging for any actor to play Rinku. Atrangi Re has largely been panned by critics and for good reason. A lot of it is problematic, inconsistent, and underdeveloped. And some of it just does not work. However, despite it all, this Aanand L Rai film was arguably the most audacious outing of 2021. And contrary to popular opinion, Sara Ali Khan is one of the good things about it. Sure, Rinku feels like the Bihari version of Mukku from Kedarnath that marked Sara’s glorious debut in Hindi films over three years ago, but the 26-year-old brings a lot more to Atrangi Re than her energy and earnestness.
    Talking about Sara’s performance in the film, Dhanush told Johar, “It’s such a brilliant role. But the beauty is she knew it and she went all out, right from the beginning.” Sara may come across as over the top in certain bits of the film, but as Atrangi Re gets denser, her performance is more heartfelt. I particularly loved her in the climactic sequence where she finally lets go of the ghosts of her past to embrace the future awaiting her, a future she’d carefully stitched up in her imagination over the years. She’s played it with such abandon, she makes an actor with as vast an experience as Akshay Kumar look flaky.
    She’s also terrific in the opening shots of the film, where she runs away with all her might in thick rain, away from everything responsible for all her hurt and damage. Her dialogues with her grandmother may be clunky, but the pain swimming in her eyes is unmistakable. When she says “Hum toh already aasiqui me jalta koyla hai,” you believe her. Her world of make-believe may look outlandish, even absurd at points, but Sara gives it her all to ground it, make you want to take this flight of fancy with her. In Atrangi Re, what fails Rinku is poor writing and weak direction, not the girl playing her.
    Talking about Rinku, Sara told Johar, “I don’t know if it’s good, bad, or different, but I think it’s been a while since I’ve done anything with total sincerity. Of course, one is sincere and I’m a hardworking person and that’s been there in every film that I’ve done, but I don’t think I’ve connected with a character the amount I have with Rinku. And I don’t think I’ve been as honest with myself as I have been this time around.”
    In an interview with Firstpost, she said, “Whether it’s our personal life, or choice of films and professional life, somewhere we all have an idealized version of what we would want or desire in life. Rinku is the same, so am I.” It shows. It’s Sara’s belief in her character and her tribulations that roots Antrangi Re and accords it the poignancy that the subject it deals with deserves.
    In the Koffee Shots episode, Johar remarked, “It always takes that one film for an actor to plonk them from star to artiste.” I couldn’t disagree more. To start with, this distinction between stars and actors is bizarre and deeply problematic. It is a careful construct to camouflage nepotism, inexperience, and poor acting behind meticulously manufactured stardom. There was a time when fandom followed as a byproduct, after several years of delivering consistently good performances. Today, all it takes is being born in a film family, an appearance on Koffee with Karan, a few million followers on social media, and lo! you’re declared a star. Sometimes, even before the release of your first film.
    Such binaries are created by film moguls to further premature talent. Irrespective of whether they come from film families or not, actors need to be judged, first and foremost, on their acting prowess. And if that’s the yardstick, Sara delivers. Atrangi Re may not have done for her what Highway did for Alia Bhatt, or Fashion for Priyanka Chopra, or Cocktail for Deepika Padukone, but in a short career punctuated by films like Simmba, Love Aaj Kal, and Coolie No. 1, it’s a landmark film for Sara Ali Khan. Moreover, it has done what she was aiming at—give her a chance to show the audiences and filmmakers her true potential, enough for them to want to cast her for roles as meaty and complex as Rinku.
    Dhanush told Johar that he was worried when he found out that Aanand L Rai had cast an actor as inexperienced as Sara to play Rinku. But all his fears, he said, came to naught when they started working together. “When I walked in, I saw an actor who had so much to learn but also had an amazing appetite to learn and work hard. If that is there, I think anything is achievable,” he told Johar. I’ll let the actor extraordinaire have the last word.
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