Arjun Reddy (Telugu) — How to revitalize love story telling
It’s been a long time since a Telugu film has compelled me to write anything about, mostly because the standard fare is mindless entertainment not serious films. Right from the teaser release, Arjun Reddy hinted at being a different kind of film and earned a cult following among social media denizens, and the final product doesn’t disappoint us. If we examine Arjun Reddy at the outset, it’s a standard story where a couple falls in love, they break-up (or broken up) and they reunite after a period of mourning/suffering. The treatment obviously differs in this film, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about it now. Most of the scripts handle the period of separation in a relationship with a sad song in a dilapidated bar or on the roads where the protagonist is drunk with his friends. Arjun Reddy has a lot of drinking and no songs. In fact, the majority of the movie (except for the flashbacks) is about the period of separation and how he handles it. Yes, that’s right. It’s a one dimensional story where the entire proceedings are seen from Arjun’s perspective, and has little to do with the woman he loves.
Arjun Reddy is a path breaking film, some even compared it with Shiva, it would be an apt comparison if we were to compare the way Shiva broke the existing cinematic rules and introduced to us a new vocabulary, but the theme here is not violence, it’s love, break-up and how it affects people. It is a character study of one flawed individual, who is honest, emotional, moral, smart, and very good at what he does. To say that he wears his heart on his sleeve would be an understatement, in fact, he would rip his heart apart and place it in your hands, and if you happen to drop it by accident, he would probably rip your heart apart. He is brutally honest to the point of exposing his love, jealousy, anger, frustration, and even lust without any regard to society, friends, or family. He is egoistic, self-aggrandizing and thinks no one is good enough. But the film doesn’t apologize for it, and wants us to see him for what he is, not regard him as a hero in a traditional sense.
The entire film revolves around how his anger, ego and emotional imbalance affect his love life, career, family, and even his friendships. The film is so focused on the eponymous protagonist, the heroine has little role to play and literally has a handful of dialogues. For all his talk about women’s empowerment and non-objectification, he does pass comments about “fat chicks” and moves on the freshman (who is his object of interest) by completely intimidating her and the entire student population. The director is acutely aware of the fact that we were never told the story from her angle, and how she fell in love with him or why, and knows that if he adds that dimension, the runtime would be doubled, so I am sure we can expect the sequel Preethi Shetty.
The film explores Arjun’s suffering in such fine detail, it feels like we spent 9 months (that’s how long they are apart, before reuniting) in the theater, but for all the “suffering”, since he is a man, he does find solace in drinking, drugs, women, but what about the girl? She is preserved like a fine flower (albeit pregnant with Arjun’s baby, unbeknownst to him) and ready to return to him. This irritates me to no end, although the dialogues, the making, the background music is par excellence, the director had to follow the Indian traditions, lest he hurts our precious patriarchal mindsets that forgives whatever the man does, but the woman has to remain pure.
Arjun Reddy is a landmark film not because of the story or characters, but the way the director Sandeep Vanga handled the film, and the maturity of the characters, and realness and rawness of emotions without resorting to cinematic overtones. Every aspect of the story, even the traditional college fights with a rival gang who slighted his girl, expressing physical intimacy effortlessly, the way characters use english in a casual classy way, the diatribes, are all handled in a fresh, never-done-in-telugu-before fashion. This is what makes it different and a milestone in Telugu cinema. Vijay Devarakonda did a tremendous job and the camera loves him even in his vulnerable states (which are aplenty), and Shalini has little to do except react but as I mentioned before it seems intentional. I love the fact that there are no silly intro songs, or duets, rather the montage songs and BGM becomes part of the yarn and gives us the emotional platform to feel what’s on the screen.
The drunk/drugged brilliant doctor narrative reminded of an excellent telugu novel called the needle by Kappagantula Mallikarjuna Rao.
Written on Aug 27, 2017